TOWANDA - An early spring warm spell last March followed by a "normal" April cold snap is responsible for the lack of apples and other tree fruit in the Northern Tier this year, according to growers and experts.
According to Tom Maloney, horticulturist at Penn State Cooperative Extension in Bradford County, the unusual spring weather "severely" affected this year's crop.
"There are some orchards that aren't even opening this fall," including Gardiner's in Troy, he said. A recorded message on their phone machine confirmed that report.
Macintosh apples from A.P. Lorson Fruit Farm sit in an apple crate in the apple orchard Monday morning as the Lorson family worked in the rainy weather, picking apples.
Driving by Landon's on Route 414, Maloney said he saw "very few" apples on the trees.
"I am expecting it to be pretty similar across the board," he said.
Landon's owner, Allyn Landon, said he got about 2 percent of his normal crop of more than 15,000 bushels.
He grows 12 varieties of apples - and this year experienced a loss of about $50,000, but the orchard will not be open for "pick your own" or apple sales at all this year.
"I had some early varieties like Paula Reds that were on a bit higher elevation that have been sent to a couple stores in Wellsboro," he said, but that 150 bushels out of a normal 600 was the only "bright spot" this year.
He also noted he hasn't had a normal apple crop since 2007.
"In 2008, I had half a crop. In 2009, my crop was destroyed by hail. In 2010, it was destroyed by frost and freeze. In 2011, hail again, and this year no crop," he said.
Local cider will be lacking, he added, as "no one is making any" this year.
"What they find in the stores will be expensive," he said, noting that New York State also was hit hard by the April freezes, losing about half its crop.
"Southern Pennsylvania growers, from what I understand, had a more normal crop, but they won't be giving apples away," he said.
A phone message at Bohlayer's in Troy indicated they will be closed for the 2012 season because they lost "nearly 100 percent" of their crop.
According to U.S. Apple Association estimates released Aug. 17, the size of the 2012 U.S. apple crop will be 202.1 million bushels, down by 10 percent from last year's estimate of 227.5 million bushels.
That estimate is about 10 million bushels greater than the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recent estimate of 192 million bushels, which is down 14 percent from the 2011 crop of 224 million bushels.
Pennsylvania experienced some freeze events, but agriculture officials expect a crop of about 10.5 million bushels, compared to an 11.2 million bushel five-year average.
When discussing the 2012 apple crop outlook, U.S. Apple's Mark Seetin said that one of the biggest challenges facing the industry this season will be logistics, with the East and Midwest being down, percentage wise, for production.
"Frosts on April 7 and April 12 really hurt juice grapes, but apples survived. The freezes on April 27 and April 29 really hammered the apples," he said.
Freezing temperatures cause ice to form within the cells of the blossoms and leaves, damaging them or destroying them. While damaged young leaves will be replaced with others during the season, only a percentage of the blossoms survived for this particular growing season.
Damaged blossoms result in small, mangled or scarred, though edible fruit but completely killed blossoms will not produce any fruit.
"Bonfires, wind machines and blankets can only raise the temperature a few degrees, which was not enough in the case of the freezes spanning April 25 to 30," Seetin said.
By region, U.S. Apple estimates Eastern states will produce 37.3 million bushels, down by a third from 2011.
Midwestern states, plagued by drought, will produce 7 million bushels, down 76 percent.
By comparison, Western states will produce 157.7 million bushels, up 13 percent from last year.
Washington State, the nation's top producer, had a crop forecast of 136 million bushels, a 5 percent increase from its 2011 crop.
New York State and Michigan, traditionally the No. 2 and No. 3 producers, were hit hard by the weather this year.
New York's apple crop was forecast at 14 million bushels, less than half its 2011 crop of 29 million bushels.
Western growers will be shipping apples across the country to meet demand, affecting cost.