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Climate Change to blame for damage to majority of Ontario organic apple crop

Posted on May 8, 2012 in News

For Immediate Release: May 8th, 2012

Local organic apples will be hard to find due to extreme weather events.

Guelph, Ontario: Summer-like temperatures in February and winter-like temperatures in April have caused havoc in Ontario’s orchards.
Two weeks of extremely warm weather in February followed by multiple frost events have left Ontario’s fruit producers forecasting drastic reductions in production.
Filsinger’s Organics has been growing apples since 1953 in Ayton, Ontario and farm manager Brandon Weber has never seen anything like this before. “We’ve experienced 17 hard frosts this year already, most of which came after 2 very warm weeks that resulted in the trees budding early.” He says there is not much they can do about these extreme weather events and they are really at the mercy of Mother Nature. Their season has been “pretty much wiped out” although they cannot know how bad it will be as they could still see more frosts before the end of May.
Brian Gilroy, a Georgian Bay area apple grower who is chairman of the Ontario Apple Growers, said the loss to fruit growers and the economy will easily be more than $100 million. On top of the lost yield or no crop at all, orchard workers and spinoff industries such as juice, packing, storage and farm supplies will be affected.
Mary Milanovich of Apple Creek Farm, a Drayton Ontario certified organic apple grower with 800 apple trees, said “we will see significant loss in production, at least 50%, although we really cannot quantify it yet.” Milanovich points out that some varieties of apples have been more affected than others, many being completely wiped out, with others that tend to bud later in the season having fared slightly better.
The apples that do still grow this year will likely be of lower quality and will only be suitable for processed products such as apple cider or apple butter. Even then, Weber notes, they will likely have to replace what they normally grow here with organic apples from British Columbia or the United States.
As a result, consumers will be hard pressed to find Ontario apples this year. Jacob Pries of the Organic Council of Ontario says “consumers should expect to see higher prices at the till for the apples that are available. Higher prices are likely to continue over the next several years as farmers attempt to recoup losses from this year.” Many of the expenses associated with growing apples will still be necessary, as pests are still an issue even with little or no crop. Weber points out that if they don’t control for pests this year it will cause increased pest problems over the next years, so they still have to spend money and time on pest and fungus control even for trees with no apples.
As the effects of climate change such as extreme weather events become more frequent, new methods to ensure apples can withstand colder temperatures, higher pest pressures, or droughts are needed. According to research biologist Douglas Nichols of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association, research is being done to develop hardier varieties, but it is happening at a slower pace than may be necessary. Other methods of ensuring resilient orchards that may show some promise include increasing soil fertility through use of trace minerals. However, with frosts as low as -8 C. as have been seen this year, Weber and Milanovich say that there was little that could have been done to save their crops.

The Organic Council of Ontario is the voice on organic issues in Ontario and is putting more organic food on Ontario’s plates. Organic Council members from along the organic value chain, from producer to processor to eater, work together to raise the profile of organics as a good news story for health, climate change mitigation, and sustainability.

Media Enquiries:
Jacob J. Pries, Communications Coordinator
Organic Council of Ontario, ‘Putting More Organics on Ontario Plates’

t: 519.827.1221 | m. 226-979-1943 | twitter @orgcouncil
5420 Highway 6 N. Suite 232, Guelph,ON, N1H 6J2