Apple crop is sweeter than usual
TRI-COUNTY AREA--Despite excess rain this summer along with both early and late winter periods of frost, several local apple farms are calling this year's crop sweeter and more colorful than usual.
"We're doing good, we have an outstanding crop. Pretty much all of our fruit is loaded up to a nice size and nice quality. I was surprised by how sweet everything is and cold nights have given a beautiful color to the fruit," said Rick Reisinger, owner of Reisinger's Apple Country in Watkins Glen.
Reisinger, who said he has been in business about 35 years, said apple picking traffic has been good so far this season.
"We have been getting more new customers which is good. About 20 percent of our customers come from out of the region heading home from vacation, but most come from the area, Elmira, Bath, Watkins," Reisinger said.
The reason for the steady business is simple Reisinger said, people enjoy the experience of picking apples.
"It works for families because they can just enjoy the simple notion of picking an apple. I don't know what it is but there is something special about it," he said.
Despite the inherent fun of picking apples the reality is that apple farming is serious business in New York state, generating $317 million in total sales for 2016 alone, according to the New York state Farm Bureau. Some farmers, like Craig Wager of Penn Yan, use their apple crop to make apple cider. Many of Wager's apples supply Wager's Cider Mill in Penn Yan where Wager is often making cider with his son Geoff.
"Along with the cider I provide apples to 22 schools in the Southern Tier," Wager said.
Aside from some small empire and McIntosh apples, Wager said he is happy about the size of this year's crop despite it being smaller than last year's.
"I think we are in the midst of an average season, but last year we had way too many. I am just getting rid of my last two barrels of crispins from last year," Wager said, adding he sold them to be made into apple pies at Monica's Pies in Naples.
For Reisinger the increase in foot traffic at his farm has him expanding his farm.
"We planted 1,000 honeycrisps this year and next year we are going to plant 1,000 snapdragons. We will keep adding because people just keep coming," said Reisinger.
Despite the optimism, Reisinger conceded that ensuring a healthy crop is getting more difficult with the climate getting warmer and wetter.
"It's been harder to keep the crop healthy with it getting warm and wet, especially with it getting warmer earlier in the spring. Our biggest fear is in late winter there being a warm-up that advances the developing flower buds but then the frost comes back and kills everything," Reisinger said.
This is a constant fear Reisinger said, and it's one that he has experience with.
"In 2012 it was a very warm winter, we managed to save maybe half of our crop that year by placing heaters in the fields," Reisinger said.
The extra warmth and water also bring challenges Wager said, because the water doesn't always come when you want it to and because it triggers the growth of weeds sooner.
"We had a big issue with grass under the trees, it was very hard to control this year. The ground stayed wet and a lot of the weeds came out in the middle of the summer and normally we don't see that because it's too dry for that," Wager said.
The excess rain also makes the crops susceptible to insects like leafroller caterpillars, Wager explained.
On top of that, Wager said he is convinced November frosts last year are the reason why many of his McIntosh and empire apples are small this year and why so many unseeded fruits didn't fall early like they were supposed to.
To combat the looming threat of frost, Reisinger said that not only is he focusing more on varieties that tend to bloom later in the season but he is also considering buying giant fans at a cost of $40,000 per fan to keep air circulating over the fields during the winter to displace the air.
"I think it would be worth it, I'm contemplating it, because other than that all you can do is hope and pray," Reisinger said.