By: Joleene DesRosiers Moody
MEXICO, NY – While many of us were thrilled with the warm weather that visited in March, fruit farmers at Behling Orchard in Mexico were praying the early apple blossoms brought on by the unseasonably warm temperatures, would survive the cold weather that quickly followed. Their prayers were answered.
“We got lucky,” Marion Behling said this week. “We guesstimate that roughly 80% of our crop survived. We were saved because we live right on Lake Ontario, which kept the temperatures here in Mexico a little bit above freezing. Temperatures need to be above 32 degrees in order for crops to survive.”
Marion holds a tiny green Cortland apple between her first finger and thumb, nodding with satisfaction at its growth thus far.
While she’s grateful she need not take advantage of the recently proposed tax credit that will help supplement full-time fruit and vegetable farmers financially, she is still leery of what kind of weather summer will bring.
“We’re okay right now, but we’ve still got the hot summer months which bring on the possibility of hail,” she said.
The proposed legislation is titled the “Apple Family Farmers and Apple Growers Relief Act” and, if passed, will cover apples, peaches, grapes cherries and berries. Vegetable crops that are eligible include tomatoes, snap beans, cabbage, carrots, beets, onions, potatoes and dry beans.
Senator Patty Ritchie (R) of the 48th Senate District says New York State farmers have experienced one of the most severe frost events ever, and that the legislation was created in order to protect the state’s agriculture industry. Ritchie is confident the legislation will pass.
“This is a priority for the Senate,” she said. “We still have time before the end of session, and obviously this is something that needs to be accomplished this year because the losses experienced by farmers are so devastating. I don’t expect that this legislation will have any problem passing. On Monday, Assemblyman Bill Magee agreed to carry the measure in the Assembly, and Assemblyman Tedisco has signed on as a co-sponsor. We have 13 sponsors in the Senate already, and are expecting more support for the measure in the future.”
Ritchie says the amount of damage varies based on the region of the state, the growing stage of the crop and the altitude. That said, early estimates indicate there are probably three million acres that have been impacted, out of 7.5 million acres total that are farmed in New York. In most cases, farmers have seen well over a 30% loss. Cherries are being estimated at 100% loss, peaches are at about 90%, and apples are over 50%.
Marion tucks the tiny, green apple in her pocket and walks back toward the small, red building near the parking lot that house two large scales. A customer waits patiently by the building with three bushels of strawberries. Marion’s strawberries were also spared, thanks to irrigation. And while fifty different varieties of apples grow normally over one hundred acres and four apple orchards, Marion knows that apple lovers will have to scrape up a few more pennies to pay for their bushels this year.
“Because of the late frost, apple and fruit prices will be affected,” she said. “They haven’t gone up yet, but they will this fall. Our prices will have to go up because we’re the only one with apples. Wholesalers will pay more because we’re the only one with a product.”
The proposed legislation would cover farmers that suffered loss for this year only.