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How odd weather is hurting New York fruit growers

Fruit Trees
Matt Richmond
An early warm spell this year led to early buds. A severe cold snap followed shortly thereafter. On the heels of a freak snowstorm, upstate fruit growers are now waiting to find out how much damage has been done.

The apple crop in New York is the second-largest in the country, behind only Washington State. Cherries, peaches, apricots and grapes are also big business in New York.

But this year, New York fruit growers are suffering through an especially uncertain time.

Warm weather in March, followed quickly by a very cold spell, and then a freak snowstorm Monday, have put the harvest in jeopardy.

“We’ll know in a couple of weeks, after the flowering has finished,” says Eric Shatt, manager of Cornell University’s orchards. “The fruitlets should be starting to form. We’ll either see them forming or we won’t.”

Shatt says Sunday night’s snowstorm isn’t actually a big worry, since the snow on the flowers is only about 32 degrees.

“The damage has been done,” says Shatt. “When we had the nights in the 20s, that was when we had severe damage to the flower.”

If the temperature stays above 25 degrees, there could be an adequate apple harvest this year, about 50 percent of the maximum crop yield. But if it falls below 25, then there could be problems.

“In a bad situation, we’ll have ten percent,” Shatt says. “And that ten percent will be mostly deformed apples that will have to go to cider.”

For the rest of Matt Richmond's story, visit the Innovation Trail website.

The Innovation Trail is a collaboration between five upstate public media outlets, reporting on New York's innovation economy.