When the drought upsets the apple cartoon

Fall is here and apple picking season is in full swing. Whether you’ve already been or still plan to make a trip to your local garden soon, you may notice some differences in this year’s crops.

From flowering to harvest, the weather in between plays a major role in determining the quantity and quality of the nation’s most consumed fruit.

What you need to know

  • Weather leading up to harvest affects the quality and quantity of apples produced in the fall.
  • Drought particularly affects the taste, appearance and size of apples.
  • The high demand for the most consumed fruit in the country increases the price

There’s no denying that apple picking is a fall favorite. Millions of Americans participate in the annual tradition each year, looking to spend time with family and friends in the garden. Along with many photo ops and recent memories, the best part is taking that first big bite into that newly picked apple.

A toddler bites into a freshly picked apple from an orchard in Natick, Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Chewing our way to the main course, our senses are awake. We look at the apple’s size, firmness, texture and taste – most of which are determined by the weather leading up to the harvest.

The main weather

In the year The 1998 apple crop reached an all-time high in the U.S. A number of factors contributed to this, including favorable weather conditions throughout the country during the growing season that resulted in subsequent crop yields in the fall. See the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Annual 1998 National Climate Report here.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Severe storms or any other severe weather events can disrupt the growing season, inevitably affecting the apples that make up the harvest.

Apples were affected by drought and early season frosts in Indiana during the fall of 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Drought in particular puts a heavy burden on the crop, affecting everything from the taste, size and overall health of the fruit.

Terrance Robinson, a professor of horticulture at Cornell University, says drought conditions affect the size, not the quantity, of apples produced in the fall.

“Summer rainfall results in higher fruit volume and better quality,” Robinson said.

An orchard in New Mexico harvested small apples in 2021 under drought conditions. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Apples grown in drought conditions may be smaller on average due to lack of water. With lower water content, smaller apples are generally sweeter in terms of sugar to water ratio.

Although this may seem like an appetite for all sweet tooths, it is not required by farmers. In fact, it could mean less pay and more expenses.

Robinson explains, “The small size [apples] There will be less bushel per hectare and less income for the farmer.

Apple growers will face additional challenges, particularly in irrigation, as they battle drought conditions leading up to harvest. This particularly affects orchards that rely 100% on rainwater as their primary source of irrigation and are not located near river banks.

Along with drier than average conditions, the heat can affect the apple crop during the summer months. As with drought conditions, heat waves can cause small fruits in addition to fruit sunstroke, which can remove affected apples from the fresh market.

Although there are many disadvantages that come with a hot and dry summer, disease is not one of them. Wet summers often make apples more susceptible to diseases, such as fire blight, apple scab, sooty spot, fly blight and bitter rot.

“All apple varieties are equally sensitive to drought, but some varieties are more heat tolerant and less prone to sunburn,” Robinson explained. This may be due to the root or root system of the apple tree.

If the root of the tree is very good and deep, it will be more resistant to drought. Robinson, from Cornell and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) breeding program, notes that the Geneva rootstocks are some of the most drought-tolerant.

The view of this season

Overall, the USDA expects the nation’s total apple crop production to reach 10.1 billion pounds in the 2022-2023 season, up about 3 percent from the 2021-2022 season. While this sounds like a good thing on the surface, this year’s projections are still below the five-year average.

Washington state, which produces more than half of the nation’s apples, was forecast to drop production this season after seeing few blooms in the spring. Wet and cold weather during the flowering period may be to blame, but the strong heat wave that hit the state in June 2021 may be to blame as warm weather can negatively affect the apple crop.

Along with an earlier harvest, several heat waves combined with continued drought conditions in the summer of 2022 could translate into further losses this season, and possibly next.

To a lesser extent, apple growers in the eastern United States battled drought or drier-than-average conditions in the summer of 2022.

New York, a top apple-producing state, is expected to increase crop yields, while other parts of New England and the Mid-Atlantic can expect losses this season. The USDA predicts Pennsylvania, another top apple-producing state, will see a 17.4% decline from last year, the largest drop of any state.

According to the New England Apple Association, states facing dry conditions, including Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut, could see yield declines of up to 15% below the five-year average. Although southern Maine has also seen declines, better weather up north will help offset the state’s deficits.

Meanwhile, parts of the Midwest could see a significant increase in fruit production this fall given favorable growing conditions in the spring and summer to offset the deficit in the West.

You did not pick from the tree yourself, the demand for apples is still high. This, coupled with inflation and labor costs, will only continue to increase apple prices this season.

The USDA predicts that the total net yield from this year’s crop will be lower by weight than in recent years. If sudden or unexpected changes do not disrupt normal weather conditions, costs generally increase by 7% to 10%. Although the actual percentage increase may be higher.

This affects all states, not just those that produce them. Even if picking apples in your local garden is not an option, there is still a desire to eat the fruit.

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