By James Niedzinski
---- — LONDONDERRY — Everyone enjoyed the few summer-like weeks in March and April, but those warm weekends have proven costly for apple and peach growers in Southern New Hampshire.
The unseasonably warm weather tricked the trees into an early bloom, then the frost struck, costing growers some precious production.
That early warm spell also translated into a much earlier harvest season., according to Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of agricultural development for the state Department of Agriculture.
George Hamilton of the University of New Hampshire Service said the past few years have been significantly warmer than usual.
“It’s not as warm as the 2010 season, which was the hottest since 1940 in New Hampshire, but it is close,” Hamilton said. “It’s almost like we had an extra month of August.”
Some farms have lost up to 60 percent of their projected harvest, Hamilton said.
“The discussion about global warming, if that’s going on or not, may change production cycles,” McWilliam Jellie said.
Rockingham County, home to Mack’s Apples, Elwood Orchards, Sunnycrest Farms Woodmont Orchards, and others, ranks 38th in the country in terms of apple production. Hillsborough County comes in at number 37.
Wayne Elwood, farm manager of Elwood Orchards, said all his crops are about two to three weeks ahead of schedule.
“The frost or early bloom has not been a major problem, but I do have to bring in a water truck in order to irrigate parts of my farm,” Elwood said. “This is the first year I’ve had to bring an outside source of water in.”
Mother Nature seems to be targeting apple harvests on multiple fronts.
Dan Hicks, farm manager at Sunnycrest Farms, said Japanese beetles are a problem, too, because they thrive when it’s hot and dry.
“Frost has not affected our apples as much, for a few reasons. A majority of our apples are pick-your-own, not commercial,” Hicks said. “But we do operate wind machines, which helped to keep frost off. It’s the reason I have a lot of my commercial apples.”
In addition to a lack of rainfall, frost and pest problems, Hamilton said hail is also a threat to apple orchards and fruit production. While there hasn’t been a problem with hail here, there has been in New York and Minnesota. That means fewer apples nationwide and higher prices everywhere, including in New Hampshire.
“Initially, we thought we were going to lose up 50 percent of our apple crop, but it looks like we will only lose 30 percent due to frost,” said Mike Cross, farm manager at Mack’s Apples. “We lost about the same amount back in 2010.”
Mack’s hasn’t had to bring in outside water yet, Cross said, but they’ve come close. In 2010, the hottest and earliest blooming year, Cross said they did bring in more water to irrigate the peach crop.
Like other local orchards, the fruit is ripening early. Cross said he expected to start selling apples this week.