Warm spring, late freeze crimps Mass. apple crop

BOSTON -- Phil Rymsha is turning away apple pickers and cider lovers from his northern Massachusetts orchard this fall because there simply aren't enough apples on his trees.

Rymsha lost 90 percent of his crop in Harvard and says he will have to rely on savings to get by this year after a warm spring and late April freeze killed early blossoms and hurt many orchards across New England.

"Once that blossom freezes, it's basically done," said Mark Gedris of the U.S Apple Association.

Apple production is down nationwide except Washington state, about 20 million bushels below the 225 million bushel average, Gedris said. Final numbers will be released next spring.

New England produces only a few million of the total nationwide, and the estimated regional loss of 25 percent to 40 percent fares better than top producers like Michigan with an estimated 85 percent loss.

But many New England orchards say they will likely have to shorten their pick-your-own season and find other ways to make ends meet.

Owners of Douglas Orchards in Shoreham, Vt., have been warning patrons the fourth-generation orchard may close early this year after losing half its crop.

The Douglases have not yet cut the schedules of their professional pickers and have seen an increase in customers.

"People are realizing there's a shortage of apples around the country, so they're just coming so they can get the apples they want and the variety they want," Terry Douglas said.

Rymsha's Phil's Apples is not currently open for picking, and he presses cider one day a week instead of every day. The temperatures hit him hard because his orchard is at a lower elevation than most, he said Tuesday before heading out to prepare apples for cider-making Saturday.

Second-generation apple grower Frank Carlson said he has never seen a loss like this year's and isn't sure how he will make up for producing only half of Carlson Orchards' typical yield.

But he said his orchards in Harvard still have plenty of apples for picking and cider-making and urges visitors to stop by.

Rymsha said next year should be better.

"It can't be as bad as 10 percent," he said.