Apple yields 'not the best' as Ontario farmers deal with wild weather

The size of Ontario's apple crop could be down by up to 20 per cent this year — but those apples will also likely be bigger and juicier, farmers say.

Ontario crop could be down by up to 20 per cent in 2017

Claire Taylor poses with one of her apples at Cannamore Orchard near Crysler, Ont., on Sept. 16, 2017. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

It's early in this year's apple harvest, but Claire Taylor already has a bad feeling.

"It's not the best. We've had an awful lot of rain," said Taylor, who's been growing apples at Cannamore Orchard near Crysler, Ont., for nearly three decades.

She isn't the only farmer predicting lower-than-normal yields this year, however.

According to the Ontario Apple Growers, the province's apple crop is expected to be about 20 per cent smaller than usual in 2017 — although those apples that do make it, the group said, should be extra delicious.

"The apples are a good size due to all the rain, but the rain has also prevented a lot of the blossoms from being pollinated," Taylor said Saturday. "Because the bees cannot go out when it's raining."

Crop yields down province-wide

The drought-like conditions that hit many parts of the province in 2016 stressed out trees and reduced the size of this year's crop, said Charles Stevens, the OAG chairperson and farmer near Newcastle, Ont., east of Toronto. 

"In apple growing, you always have to look to next year," Stevens said. "I have a very good grower down the road from me, and he got half a crop. And that was because of last year."

While crop yields may end up lower than normal, this year's cooler, wetter growing season means individual apples will be juicier and more succulent, according to Stevens.  

"For the most part, this crop is a better quality, better size, better moisture content. It was awful dry last year, and we struggled for colour," he said.

"Apples love cold, cool summers and they come out with a beautiful colour in the fall. Last year, that was not the case."

Scab scare

David Phillips farms eight varieties of apples near Avonmore, Ont., and said that aside from a couple of exceptions, his crop is coming in reasonably well.

"Honey Crisp is light. Royal Galas are light. The other varieties that we have here, I'm not seeing that, " Phillips said.

"In eastern Ontario [those varieties] are little more difficult to grow. They need a little longer season — a little more finicky, I guess."

Apple growers in eastern Ontario say the heavy rainfall has made their crops more susceptible to apple scab, a fungal disease that makes the fruits less aesthetically appealing but typically doesn't affect their taste. (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs)

However, both Phillips and Taylor said the spring rainfall has made apple scab — a fungal disease that can give the fruit a blotchy, pockmarked appearance — more prevalent this year.

"There was so much rain that we couldn't keep up with the fungicide sprays," said Taylor, adding that rainstorms would often wash away their fungicide.

The vast majority of customers who've been out picking McIntoshes and Lobos haven't minded the occasional unsightly apple, Taylor added, noting that any scab damage is "cosmetic" and won't affect the taste.

Cannamore Orchard is now waiting for the rest of its crop — which includes Spartans, Empires, Honey Crisps and Ambrosias — to come in to see how much they've fallen short in 2017.

"We won't know for sure if we'll get any money from the crop insurance people until it's all said and done," Taylor said.