By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – A hard, late frost on May 17 and 18 devasted the apple crop at some of the state’s 228 orchards leaving those low-lying trees eerily without fruit.
“We did the best we could,” said Diane Souther, who with her husband Chuck, owns Apple Hill Farm in Concord. Their website is: https://www.restaurantji.com/nh/concord/apple-hill-farm-/
It got to 27 degrees with no inversion but it was so extended in time that the wind machines operating to keep the apple blossoms from freezing could not withstand it “and we pretty much lost the whole crop,” she said, Friday.
At 700 feet of elevation, she said the blossoms were destroyed while those orchards at even just a few hundred feet of elevation higher, like Surowiec in Sanbornton and Cardigan Mountain orchard in Alexandria, escaped the devastation.
Josh Marshall, director of the Division of Agricultural Development within the state Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food said there is still an assessment going on of the extent of damage caused by the unusually late and hard frost, but he expects a disaster declaration.
While there may be federal assistance, it will likely come in the form of low-interest loans to farmers who do not have insurance.
Souther said the crop is insured and the farm is diversified with a really good-looking raspberry crop, some limited damage to strawberries which will begin to be picked June 20th, and many other fruits and vegetables that are sold directly to consumers at their farmstand.
New Hampshire has a $12 million crop of apples, with much of the crop sold directly to consumers though some farms also sell their product wholesale.
Heather Bryant, field specialist for UNH Cooperative Extension Service in Grafton County said most apple farms prioritize pick-your-own and retail sales over wholesale, meaning what apples are growing are more likely to be sold here rather than out-of-state.
She said it got as cold as 18 F degrees during that cold snap just at a time when the bloom cycle was at a critical point in the state.
She has about six farms in her county which deployed wind machines, set up fires and propane heaters in the orchards themselves, and did what they could but most did not emerge unscathed.
“Farms are still assessing,” she said, noting it is likely that the full extent of the damage will be known by early July.
Other crops and mast crops used by wildlife were also damaged.
Gov. Chris Sununu, when speaking with reporters this week, said he and the Executive Council met for breakfast Wednesday at Bridges House in Concord, where the state now has a pollinator garden, and received a report from the Cooperative Extension on the varieties of impacts due to rare cold spells.
He noted in February, when temperatures in the state dove to -20 F degrees, the state’s limited peach crop was destroyed.
Souther said that was true for all of the 37 varieties of peaches at Apple Hill Farm.
“We’re hopeful they will come back next year, we just don’t know because we have never had a freeze like that before,” so late in the growing season, she said.
In May, farms were able to actually freeze strawberry plants and allow them to thaw, saving most of the crop.
Marshall said farmers are an optimistic lot in general and they are maintaining the apple trees in the hope of a good year, next year.
He said one farmer noted that whatever apples survived “will be big ones.”
By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org