After high temperatures in March, blossom-shriveling frosts in April, and a hot-dry summer, the apple crop yield is down 54 percent statewide from the five-year average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's crop forecast.
For many local growers, its shaping up to be the worst season in decades, though a silver lining comes in the form of a sweeter plumper fruit.
According to the New York Apple Association, harvest for many growers began about three weeks earlier than usual due to the early spring weather, and the summer sun and dry weather led to sweeter apples.
Dona Dise, left of Caroga holds a Paulared apple as she speaks with owner Todd Rogers at the Rogers Family Orchard in Johnstown on Thursday. Michele Shutts of Caroga looks on. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
Ed Pavlus opened Pavlus Orchard in Fort Plain on Sept. 1 for the season. He said harvest began about 10 days earlier than usual, but the apples, based on their type are scattered in ripening.
Pavlus grows 13 different breeds of apple on his five acres. Now is the time for honey crisp, gala, Red McIntosh and more.
"Between now and mid-October, they sort of stagger [in ripening]," Pavlus said. "My crop is light now. I'd say it's probably 1/3 to 1/2 of the [usual] crop."
Lake View Orchards
133 Co. Hwy. 123
685 Argersinger Road
Rogers Family Orchards
260 Co Hwy 131
270 Hickory Hill Road
Sand Flats Orchard
371 Martin Road
251 Heiser Road
Pavlus usually offers a pick-your-own option, but the crop this season was so diminished and the harvest so early he will not be offering that service.
"It was too cold to early. It got warm so early in March, then it froze in April and it was a hot-dry summer. We were lacking water down here, too," he said. "This is the worst season I've had in 20 years."
The moral of the story, he said, is "come early and buy them before I run out."
It's a similar story at Rogers Family Orchards in Johnstown, though Todd Rogers said the harvest wasn't much earlier than usual.
"They seem to be right about on track. The problem we had was back in the spring, everybody had a problem. We definitely lost over half [the crop]. Luckily I have enough for pick-your-own," he said
Rogers has been working the orchard since 1970 and said he can't remember the crop declining so much before.
With fewer apples available in a high-demand season, naturally the price of the state fruit has gone up this season.
"Everything has gone up," Rogers said. "This year has been all whacked out. It's really just nuts."
While the yield was about halved, the cost of spraying the apples remained the same. For Rogers' 15 acres that means a $15,000 to $17,000 spray bill just like other years.
"With half a crop of apples, that makes it harder," he said. "But it was kind of funny this spring because originally in April, I thought we lost [more] so I sprayed a couple times" thinking the whole crop was lost.
"A couple weeks goes by and I start looking and say, 'Holy smokes, there's some apples out there!' I have to spray more and put as much into it with a half crop of apples as I would with a whole crop."
The loss of apples can affect seasonal work, too. In Rogers' case, he usually hires two to three people. This year he could only hire one person to help pick.
Both Pavlus and Rogers noted the cider this year has a mid-season sweetness.
"We made cider [last] Friday. It was absolutely delicious. It tasted almost like it does in October because the apples haven't got as much juice in them. It's so hot, so they're sweeter," he said.
Like Pavlus, Rogers warns apple-lovers to buy early.
"Everything's not ready yet, so I don't know if they're going to have to hurry, but I'll certainly run out of apples in the orchards sooner than normal," Rogers said.
Both orchards have stores that sell plenty of other sweet favorites like locally made maple syrup, pancake mixes, and jams and jellies.
Rogers said he is keeping his store stocked as well as offering the you-pick service.
Pavlus grows his own red potatoes and makes cider as well. He said he also has a selection of sharp cheese in different flavors, and local honey.
Both said consumers can look forward to one positive in another fall-favorite crop - pumpkins and gourds appear to be shaping up nicely.
"This year puts a spotlight on the kinds of pressures that our growers have to deal with year in year out," state Apple Association's President Jim Allen said in a news release. "They deserve our respect and support, don't you think?