On Friday, growers in Eastern Canada were on watch and preparing for the onset of what was then called Hurricane Lee. While rain is something to watch, what apple growers and shippers such as Van Meekeren Farms in Kentville, Nova Scotia really are looking out for are wind gusts and at press time, they were predicted to be some 60-90 kilometers/hour.
That means the first line of defense is picking fruit. “You pick any fruit that’s ready to the extent that you have the staff available to get it all done in time. Then, we’ve picked some orchard blocks with varieties that are more susceptible to falling off and are ready or very, very close to ready,” says Michael Van Meekeren of Van Meekeren Farms. “We pick all the apples around the outside edge of the orchard. The wind will hit the outside ones the worst and then as it makes its way through the trees, it dissipates as it goes to the center.”
In varieties, that means varieties such as Honeycrisp could very well be hit the hardest. Van Meekeren says generally picking might be done of an orchard block when fruit readiness hits a certain mark--say, 30 percent of the fruit on the trees are ready for harvest. “It’s more efficient to go through an orchard that way,” he says. “This week, growers have been starting early and have maybe only gotten 10 or 15 percent of the fruit. The cost of labor is higher but at least they’re getting some of that fruit off in a pre-hurricaned state so it’s not bruised, damaged, or, in the worst case, on the ground.” However, for fruit that isn’t ready, there’s not much that can be done.
Photo: NASA Worldview
The storm hit the region at a time when the apple harvest has barely started. Van Meekeren estimates that only 10 percent of the fruit is harvested by now and that normally it’s later in September when harvest fully gets underway. While some early Honeycrisp might be picked, the majority of the fruit is still on the trees and Van Meekeren believes that will be impacted the most if Lee predictions come true. “It’s a big volume in this area so a high percentage of the trees are Honeycrisp,” he says. “Then some varieties like Pazazz, they generally fare better in storms anyways, even when they’re mature. We think those will be okay because it’s a month from now before we’d even consider harvesting them.”
Last year Eastern Canada also was hit by Hurricane Fiona, though that impacted growers in the neighboring province of Prince Edward Island more. “There are growers in this region though who completely lost their crop last year and they may be facing a second year in the row so there are others looking at this with even more dread,” says Van Meekeren. “It’s hard to take two years in a row.”
Lee made landfall in Nova Scotia on Saturday afternoon as a post-tropical cyclone after transitioning from a hurricane. In Nova Scotia, about 73,800 customers were without power on Sunday morning. Lee is expected to continue weakening over the next several days.