Damage to Ontario's apple crop is worse than expected

The Ontario Apple Growers Association estimates that 88 per cent of the province's apple crop has been lost in April's frost.
Ontario's apple crop has suffered this year. (Jessica Young/CBC)

It’s worse than feared for apple farmers in Ontario.

Ontario Apple Growers association chair Brian Gilroy says that it looks like Ontario apple farmers have lost about 88 per cent of their crop this year.

"It’s devastating," said Gilroy. "The estimates that we gave of there being 20 per cent of the crop left is probably optimistic. We’re looking at probably 12 per cent."

Warm weather in February and March led to early blossoms that were, in April, burned by frost. A killer blow.

The Ontario Apple Growers surveyed apple farmers in the province. Of more than 220 farmers, only 37 reported back, but the numbers don’t look good.

"On my farm, there’s hardly a McIntosh there," said Gilroy. "There’s a large Spy block. You’ll walk by four or five apple trees without seeing anything. The real conundrum is what to do with such a spotty crop as that." 

Gilroy estimated that on his farm, a tree that might normally produce 12 to 15 bushels will only produce one this season.

That also means fewer people needed to pick apples. Gilroy said the damage this season could mean 600 fewer jobs in the Georgian Bay area alone where he farms apples.

Brenda Fletcher of Fletcher Fruit Farm in Binbrook said of the 23 varieties she usually sells, only four or five will produce enough to make it to the market.

Once she gets to the market on Ottawa Street, she’s not sure how long she can stay.

"We may lose our market for the winter," Fletcher said. "We’re hoping to let our customers know we will be back next year. It was just the weather."

The news is not all bad. Northern Spy and Gala apples are in good supply across Ontario. Gilroy estimates a "reasonable volume" for both.

Gilroy hopes help from the government is on the way. They haven’t announced any plan for compensating farmers, but the government has been doing the background work necessary to put a plan in place, he said.

He is certain, however, about his message for people who love Ontario grown apples.

"We’ll be back stronger than ever in 2013," he said. "We’re not going to be that dominant in the market this year but whenever possible ask for Ontario grown."