With spiking hot temperatures in April followed by a three-day cold snap, most apple-growers, despite their efforts, suffered severe crop loss.
Tim Dressel, the third generation of the Dressel family farm off Route 208 in New Paltz, said that the greatest impact to their apple orchard happened “during a weekend frost in April. It was a Friday, Saturday and Sunday when the temperatures plummeted to the lower 20s Fahrenheit. Many of our apple trees were right in the middle of their bloom.”
Family members took turns running their three wind machines, which help to stir the warm air, which is less dense, towards the apples blossoms. “Just a few degrees can make the difference between losing a crop or not,” said Dressel. In this case, the wind machines spared some trees, but overall, the Dressels lost 75 percent of their apple crop, which is by far their biggest and most lucrative cash crop.
Later-blooming varieties were spared, and Dressel Farms will still have their “Pick-Your-Own-Apples” weekends with hayrides, their renowned cider donuts and plenty of apples to keep local customers stocked up for late summer and early fall. “You do all you can do, but in the end, we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature,” said Tim. “My grandfather always says that ‘If farming were easy, everyone would do it!’”
Minard Farms of Clintondale and Wilklow Orchards in Highland suffered apple damage as well, due to the three-day temperature drop in April. “The weather impact on our orchards has been pretty severe,” said Sharon Wilklow of Wilklow Orchards, which have been operating since 1855. “That cold snap after the heat, which pushed all of our fruit crops to blossom early, damaged the majority of our crop. And then we had a hailstorm! We’re on a hill, and the whole lower part of the farm was pretty much wiped out.”
She estimates the apple crop loss to be between 70 and 80 percent. “I know that so many apple farmers had the same experience, and some had it worse than us. Whenever you hear of a farmer losing their crop, you get this awful feeling in the pit of your stomach, because you know what it’s like. It hurts.”
That said, Wilklow was quick to point out that, like the Dressels, the Wilklows have a variety of other fruits and produce that they were able to protect from the cold, like the blueberries, raspberries, peaches and donut peaches that they’re just picking now. “What we did was to irrigate our blueberries and raspberries during the cold snap, which did not allow the ice to form, and we were able to save them,” she said. “We also have a great variety of crops like cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, and deliver them to many farm markets both locally and several in Brooklyn, a few in Manhattan, that we’re able to sustain a blow like this — though it was a blow.”
Like the Minards and Dressels, the Wilklows still have plenty of apples, particularly late-blooming varieties, that will be available for customers and “Pick-Your-Own” outings beginning Labor Day weekend.
“We will be ready with our customers’ favorite varieties,” said Deb Dubrava of Minard Farms. “We were able to save some with our wind machines, but it was a heavy loss.” The Minards were also able to help protect their peaches to some extent and ended up not producing as much as they like, but enough to keep their customers happy.
Tim Dressel said the same. “We can provide our peaches to our loyal customers, but we don’t have the abundance we normally do.”
While the Wilklows used irrigation to protect some of their non-apple fruit crops, Dressel said that what helped them preserve their strawberries — one of the Farms’ hallmark crops, with their beloved “Pick-Your-Own Strawberries” as a local family tradition — were the row covers, which look like long, linear white blankets. “That’s really what they are,” he explained. “They’re blankets that help keep the heat in and protect them from the cold. So we were fortunate with our strawberries.”
Corn farmers, like the Ferrantes of Wallkill View Farms along the flats on Route 299 west of New Paltz, fared much better than their apple-farming friends. “Overall, the season has been very good to us,” said Sandy Ferrante. “But we’re not fruit-growers or apple-farmers, which I know were hit pretty hard by a spring frost.”
The main crop for Wallkill View is sweet corn — “supersweet” corn, to be exact. “Corn loves lots of sunshine, and that’s what we’ve been getting,” said Ferrante. “So do our pumpkins and tomatoes. The trick, with the dry weather we’ve been having, is to keep them irrigated. They need water. We’re so fortunate to have access to [the Wallkill River] a natural irrigation source. So as for now, the crops are looking great.”
This is good news for the Ferrantes and corn-lovers and growers, as last year was almost a total loss. Cloudy weather in the summer and then severe rain events in September and October wiped out entire crops for many farms — including Wallkill View, which were completely underwater, including the farmstand.
“We do it because we love to grow things, and you can’t control Mother Nature,” said Dubrava. “But everything has been pushed earlier by at least two weeks, so we’re already starting to pick apples and getting ready for our pick-your-own season starting Labor Day.”