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Canada: Valley apple growers scramble to beat expected high winds

Apple growers in the Annapolis Valley are hoping strong winds from hurricane Sandy won’t pack too big a wallop in their orchards, as some farmers scrambled Monday to harvest the remainder of their crop. “We have a concern because if it gets too windy, apples will come off,” John Eisses, owner of Eisses Family Farms in Centreville, Kings County, said in an interview. Workers were out in full force on the weekend and again Monday to pick as much of the crop as possible before the storm is felt here. Hurricane Sandy was expected to hit the northeastern states the hardest. But because of the sheer size of the storm, it was expected to be felt in the Maritimes, particularly southwestern Nova Scotia, bringing high winds and heavy rain.

Eisses has 48 hectares of orchards planted beneath the North Mountain, about 15 kilometres north of Kentville, making him one of the largest growers in the Annapolis Valley. By Monday morning, he had about 20 per cent of his late variety crop left to harvest, mostly Northern Spy, Ida Reds and Golden Delicious varieties. “We’re about 80 per cent done,” said Eisses, who is president of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association, which represents commercial growers in the province. “We still have crop to be harvested. And we aren’t the only ones.” Apples knocked to the ground are bruised, impacting quality. “The only thing we can do is pick as fast as we can,” he added.

Growers have had a good year, with the crop is on par with other harvests, or approximately two million bushels. The industry is worth $20 million annually to farmers and approximately $100 million to the Nova Scotia economy. David Cudmore, chief executive officer of Scotian Gold, a farmer-owned co-operative that packs about 50 per cent of the apple crop in the province, said the crop is especially vulnerable this time of year. Most of the co-op growers have about 10 per cent of their crop left to pick. “They’re ready to come off. There’s a huge amount of weight on the trees and it won’t take a lot of wind to knock them off.” Scotian Gold, in Coldbrook, is the largest apple packing and storage facility in Eastern Canada, with fruit from 55 farms.

There is nothing growers can do except keep picking before the storm arrives. “Everybody is out in full force. And whatever happens after that, we’ll have to accept,” said Cudmore. Dela Erith, executive-director of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association, said farmers “have been picking like crazy all weekend, but most of them are just about done.” “If the wind comes up significantly it could take off what’s left on the trees. ... It depends on where it hits. Maybe most of the storm will bypass us altogether.” But the biggest fear right now is that farmers could lose whatever portion of the crop is still left on the trees this late in the season. Erith said the apple quality is good this year, and markets and prices are expected to be strong, with the loss of much of the apple crop in Ontario and Quebec this growing season. Apple buyers from those areas have been visiting growers in the Valley in search of product. “We’re in pretty good shape,” Greenwich apple grower Peter Elderkin said. “I think a lot of the growers are just about finished picking.” But he added that some good weather would be welcome this week to finish work in the orchards.


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