Will drought affect apple picking at Red Apple Farm in the fall?


PHILLIPSTON — As Red Apple Farm prepares for its fourth annual Sunflower Festival this weekend, staff are doing everything they can to ensure a Level 3 drought doesn’t ruin this season’s apple harvest.

“I am optimistic and we had timely rains, but we had to irrigate more than normal and work more to keep our crops in good condition for the fall harvest,” said Al Rose, owner of Red Apple Farm. “For farms in the Northeast, long-term drought management is going to be increasingly important due to global warming and hotter summers each year.”

The state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs rated most of Massachusetts as “Level 3 – Critical Drought”, which prohibits unnecessary outdoor water use.

Despite the drought, Rose is optimistic about the upcoming apple harvest. The farm currently picks four kinds of apples which ripen in early August, and by the end of September the apple season should be in full swing.

“Trees that didn’t do well with the drought, you can see the effect the heat has on them, especially on the last original Macintosh apple tree,” Rose said. “This tree was planted in 1912 and drought killed the top. The 100-year-old tree didn’t like the stress of that year, but it’s still producing offspring.”

Adapting, diversifying and changing are what farmers need to do to keep their operations going. Rose says farms are at a disadvantage because everything they do is based on experience.

“Adapting to things that are beyond our control, like extreme weather, is what you do as a farmer,” Rose said. “It seems like we are constantly adapting and changing. COVID-19 has really tested our ability to adapt and change.”

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Yuliya Shamir and her mother, Tatyiana Shlemanova, take advantage of the cool weather to pick blueberries on Wednesday August 10 at Red Apple Farm.

Rose said he had his grandfather’s records of strategies the farm had used in the past to protect the crop from certain weather conditions, but realized his grandfather hadn’t. cope with the consequences of climate change and extreme weather conditions.

“You really can’t prepare for unpredictable weather; what you can really do is start thinking about options, make a decision and take advantage of the three or four day window that the weather forecast gives you. to prepare for the worst,” Rose said. “We always joke that the reality of farming is that you play all the time.”

How do farmers water crops in times of drought?

“With drought years like this, we’re not able to meet demand. It’s just been one of the hottest years in a long time,” Rose said. “We had to dig wells in our irrigation system to meet the water demand of our crops.”

At Red Apple Farm, there are four ponds filled with rainwater and percolation. Two are currently used for irrigation and the other is backup for emergency use. Ponds in use are running out because there has been little or no rain to fill them this summer, but crops are demanding more water as temperatures reach record highs.

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Other weather hazards that affect agriculture

“There were a few years where we ran out of water completely,” Rose said. “In 2019 we had a very big hailstorm and within minutes 60% of our apples were gone. This year the apples look great, they just need more water.

“You never know with these storms. We say we want them to hit us, but with a lot of these storms there’s hail and for an apple grower you don’t want hail,” Rose said. “Farms are such a weather-dependent operation.”

Building irrigation wells is something farmers can do to cope with high temperatures. However, the cost of developing wells is an obstacle for most farms when looking for solutions to keep their crops alive.

State programs help irrigate farms

“Three years ago we applied for this state program that helps farms build irrigation wells to prepare for dry summers,” Rose said. “Our project has not been funded so far. The total cost of the program is approximately $20,000.”

The Farmers Service Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture fund several grant and loan programs that provide farmers with financial support to build irrigation systems that help them combat drought and other conditions extreme weather.

“We are the first farm in the state to be funded and able to start building the well pump powered by solar panels,” Rose said. “Vermont-based Green Mount Well is installing solar panels that will make the irrigation pond more reliable and sustainable.”

If you go to the Sunflower Festival

The fourth annual Sunflower Festival will take place on Saturday August 20 and Sunday August 21 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It will feature live music, food and vendors.

If you go to the Appleseed Country Fair

The farm also hosts the Appleseed Country Fair, which will be held over Labor Day weekend, September 3-5. Admission is $15 per car.

The farm is at 455 Highland Ave., Phillipston.

For more information, visit the farm’s website at redapplefarm.com.

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