Evan Schutt picks a Honeycrisp apple from a tree on his 50-acre farm on Plank Road in Penfield.
“See that scorch?” Shutt asked, pointing out a discolored, grainy stripe down the middle. “No one is going to want to bite into that.”
The frost ring, as it is called, is the mark left on the apple by the May 18 frost. Even if the damage is only cosmetic, Schutt will not offer blemished apples for sale at Schutt’s Apple Mill, the family business he took over. eight years ago.
Harvest is still underway, but it appears half of Schutt’s crop was affected by the late spring frost. In addition to the superficial damage seen on the Honeycrisp apples, the farm’s Empire apples were almost completely destroyed this year.
Some of the frost-damaged apples can be sold to make cider or apple juice, but he expects to get $60 per bin (800 pounds of apples), compared to the $600 or 700 a bin of apples Honeycrisp eating might pay off.
In a way, Schutt knows he’s lucky. Some New York apple growers lost 95% of their harvest. Initial estimates put losses averaging 20 percent statewide.
“We know of a lot of farms in central New York, some of the uplands around the Hudson Valley and a little further south of Lake Ontario…more inland. .. where they lost their entire crop, which is absolutely terrible,” said Gregory Peck, associate professor of horticulture at Cornell University.
It all depends on location, according to Peck. Orchards near bodies of water are protected from frost episodes because the cooler air allows the trees to flower later in the season. Proximity to water also mitigates large temperature variations.
“On the morning of May 18,” he said, “the orchards near the lake simply did not reach as cold a temperature as the orchards a few kilometers further south on Lake Ontario. “
Peck said losses from spring frosts would also be more likely in coming years as climate change leads to warmer winters and earlier flowering of apple trees.
One method growers can try to mitigate the damage, he said, is to plant a mix of apple varieties timed to bloom at different times, so that a single bout of frost doesn’t destroy everything.
Elevation is another factor.
In Penfield, less than three and a half miles from Schutt’s Apple Mill, the Wickham Farms apple orchard largely escaped frost damage this spring. This is because their apple trees are located on a hill.
“What happens is the cold air flows like water, down the hill, and the warm air stays. We think that may have spared us,” said Debbie Wickham, co-owner of the farm.
On a cool September morning last week, she prepared to greet customers who were waiting for the new crop of Honeycrisp apples to be ready to pick.
This customer favorite makes up half of the farm’s apple harvest.
“Basically, we have more apples than we’re currently able to sell. These trees are producing like wildfire,” Wickham said, pointing to a wall of fruit-laden trees.
Back at Schutt’s Apple Mill, Evan Schutt said he will get by this year by sourcing apples from other local growers and selling other products in his retail store.
He has already diversified his business by planting strawberries and flowers and organizing events in summer and fall. Two years ago, he installed an irrigation system on the farm.
But Schutt, a fifth-generation farmer, has faced increasingly extreme weather and knows he will continue to face challenges.
He admitted that he sometimes questions his decision to abandon a teaching career to enter the business world.
“I love what I do,” Schutt said, “I’m a really lucky person. The community has supported our family business for over 100 years. But it’s hard to tell you that stress isn’t an integral part of my life.”
Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a request from New York State for a federal agricultural disaster designation.
This will allow farmers affected by spring frost to apply for low-interest emergency loans.