Mixed bag for local orchards amid bumper apple season in Ontario

Apple yields in eastern Ontario have run the gamut from thin pickings to bountiful bushels this fall, but the provincial apple growing association says fortunes for the fruit have increased overall in 2022.

“Apple bins are rare,” said Cathy Mckay, president of Ontario Apple Growers. “Which means there is a lot of fruit in the orchards.”

Mckay, who also owns Nature’s Bounty Farm in Port Perry, Ont., said most orchards in the province will normally have hundreds or even thousands of storage bins available.

“When the bins are short, you know it’s a big harvest,” she said. “It’s just been a pretty exceptional year.”

That was certainly the case for Shelley Lyall, co-owner of Mountain Orchards in Mountain, Ont., about 50 kilometers south of downtown Ottawa.

After a disappointing 2021 growing season that saw the farm lose almost three quarters of its yield to frost, Lyall said his orchard is in the midst of a “once in a lifetime harvest”.

Last year’s losses may have paved the way for this year’s record harvest, Lyall said, by giving the trees a break from the stresses of growing fruit.

Add in strong pollination, proper rainfall and plenty of sunshine throughout spring, and “the stars have aligned,” Lyall said.

“We haven’t had such a harvest for so many years,” she said.

Shelley Lyall has co-owned Mountain Orchards since 1974 and says they are having a banner year. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Some farms fall back on other crops

Despite the general trend, not all apple growers have had ideal conditions this year.

Mat Kelly and Vic Bakker, owners of Cannamore Orchard in Crysler, Ont., said a cool spring meant a short bloom time for their trees.

The farm also faced a dry spell in August, during which “some trees were stressed and dropped apples” and then suffered a period of listless pollinators, Bakker said.

A few people stand inside the main building of an orchard with dozens of baskets of apples lining the walls.
Baskets of apples line the walls of the Cannamore orchard near Crysler, Ont., on Saturday. Orchard owners say their trees have already been picked after a less than stellar year. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

As a result, all the trees in the orchard have already been clean picked, forcing farmers to offer potential apple pickers a different crop.

“You take whatever nature gives you,” Bakker said. “Once the apples are gone, it’s like, well, we’re picking pumpkins, folks.”

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