Apples at the Vergers Rockburn Orchards were severely damaged by a hail storm that passed over the region on Wednesday afternoon.
Areas of Franklin were hammered by a flash storm Wednesday afternoon that saw large hailstones cut a devastating swath through a number of orchards, leaving many concerned for their upcoming season.
"We’ve never seen a storm of this magnitude," says Fred Stevenson of Stevenson Orchard in Franklin. "It’s like you took a 12 gauge to them," he says of the damage to the apples.
"It’s pretty bad," concurs Laurie Ann Prevost, one of the owners of the Vergers Rockburn Orchards. "The back orchard is probably 100% lost, the front 90%," she says. "We got quarter-sized hail for twenty solid minutes," she notes, while describing the extent of the damage to her property. And, she suggests, many fellow apple growers along the 202 into Franklin could be facing a similar situation.
"Most of the apples have bruises, which would make them good only for apple juice or sauce," says Prevost. Unfortunately, a lot of the apples were damaged more severely having been cut open by the hail. Those apples will have to be removed to prevent them from rotting on the trees.
According to Prevost, all hope is not lost as some sections of the orchard were hit more lightly by the storm. "A very small section of McIntosh, Spartan and Cortland only have a few marks," she suggests, while admitting the section with minimal damage is extremely small.
For a number of owners however, concern following the storm turned immediately from the state of their apples to protecting their trees. "Mother nature just opened the door wide," says Fred Stevenson. "This was a perfect storm for starting fire blight," he notes, which is an extremely infectious bacteria that can destroy entire orchards if left unchecked.
"We had a wake-up call last year," he says of the disease, to which the Honeycrisp and SweeTango varieties are extremely susceptible. "It’s all a matter of whether you give it a door to come through," he says of the careful maintenance work that lies ahead for all those affected by the hail.
Hope for the season
In the next week, representatives from the Financière Agricole will be in the region to assess the damage. Once the assessment has been completed, those affected will be able to begin to look at how best to salvage their season, which had been looking extremely promising, laments Prevost. For Rockburn Orchard, the plan is to work hard to ensure they have enough apples to sell at the kiosk and at farmers’ markets this fall and at Christmas markets.
"We are going to try our best to have some quality apples, especially Honeycrisp, for our customers," says Prevost, insisting that she is not ready to call the season a total loss just yet. "They will be harder to find and pick but we’ll get it done," she adds. The goal now is to prepare for the start of the season so that when people visit the orchard to buy apples, they will not be able to tell there had been hail.