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New York apple orchards feel the effects of may frost
New York Ag Connection - 09/26/2023

A historic frost that struck much of New York in May 2023 is still having an impact on local apple orchards as the annual Apple Harvest Festival approaches.

The May 18 frost caused nearly 100% crop loss at many farms, leading some to cancel their pick-your-own apple programs. Other farms have diversified their crops, brought in apples from nearby orchards, and held events like hayrides to make up for some of the losses.

The frost impacted apples, grapes, peaches, stone fruits, and berries, leading the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare 31 counties in New York — including Tompkins County — primary natural disaster areas. This designation means that farms may qualify for emergency loans from the USDA Farm Service Agency.

Littletree Orchards, a family-run Newfield orchard, lost 100% of their apple crop to the frost. Orchard manager Amara Steinkraus was able to use a backstock of apples to create retail products, including apple sauce and apple butter, that she will sell to help the business.

Indian Creek Farm in Ithaca lost about 99% of their apple crop to the freeze. Farm owner Steve Cummins said the farm is diversified and grows over 100 crops for customers to pick. After the freeze, farm staff quickly planted more vegetables to make up for some of the losses. Cummins said his goal for this year is simply to break even on the orchard.

Both Cummins and Steinkraus said they were able to get apples from other farms and have used these to make farm stand products like apple cider and donuts.

Climate change is directly responsible for unseasonable temperatures and extreme cold around the world, like the weather patterns observed on May 18. Farmers have always attempted to mitigate frost damage through strategies like burning brush, but recent weather has been more unpredictable and extreme than New York farms are used to seeing. This will likely influence farmers to think more about the ongoing impacts of climate change.

The Apple Harvest Festival, an annual event hosted by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, will be held from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 in Ithaca. CEO Nan Rohrer said the May freeze has not affected planning efforts and the event will go on as usual. She said to her knowledge, no vendors have refused to attend because of crop loss and there are about 40–45 farmers expected to sell goods at the event.

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