Apple crop failure plagues some local orchards

By Jenna Lookner | Sep 04, 2012
Photo by: Jenna Lookner This apple tree in Palermo is one of many that are markedly devoid of apples following a widespread crop failure.

Lincolnville — Sunday, Sept. 2, Bob Sewall and Mia Mantello of Sewall Organic Orchard announced via Facebook that their 550-tree Lincolnville orchard — the oldest certified organic orchard operating in Maine — had experienced a "total crop failure" in 2012. Sewall and Mantello are not alone, according to John Bunker of FEDCO Trees. Bunker said he has heard widespread reports of apple crop failure in mid-Maine this fall, Bunker's own apple crop — at his home orchard in Palermo — has also failed.

Bunker said the apple crop failure can be attributed to several factors including a "pretty phenomenal" crop in 2011, high temperature spikes followed by freezing nights in March and budding that occurred about three weeks earlier than it typically does.

Bunker explained apple trees form fruit buds a year in advance of when the buds will produce fruit, therefore apple trees produced their buds for 2012 in the spring of 2011. Because the trees were also devoting energy into growing a large apple crop, putting simultaneous energy into fruit bud production was challenging.

"That almost certainly played a role," said Bunker.

Temperatures soaring into the 80s in March also may have contributed, Bunker said. Fruits buds began to swell and absorb water during the hot days. Later in March temperatures dropped again, damaging the buds.

"That was not necessarily conducive to fruit production," Bunker explained. Additionally most apple trees in mid-Maine bloomed 3 to 4 weeks earlier than usual. Bunker said the trees bloomed "towards the end of April" in 2012, usually they would not bloom until mid-May.

"[Apple crop failure] is likely do to one of these things or a combination of them," Bunker said.

He noted "there are apples in Maine" in 2012 and some orchards in northern regions of the state may have a better crop than mid-Maine orchards since temperatures were more steady during the spring.

Brien and Emily Davis of Hope Orchards said they are expecting a decent apple crop. The plan to open the gates to the orchard — which offers pick-your-own apples in addition to apples for purchase at their farm stand — Friday, Sept. 7.

"[The apple crop] is not as bountiful as the last three years," said Brien Davis. "But mostly it's good."

Emily Davis said "the most discouraging word for me is 'spotty.'" She noted that there are areas of the orchard laden with apples — and some patches where "nothing happened, there was no pollination."

Brien Davis said Hope Orchards has about three-quarters of their typical crop, but that's not unusual since the past three seasons have been "bumper years." He noted that last time there was no snow cover in the spring he experienced a complete crop failure. The Davises said they've read trade journal articles citing apple crop failure in New York at rates as high as 60 to 90 percent.

"We've gotten calls from Motts looking for apples," Brien Davis said.

He recalled a recent visit from a young couple — honeymooners from New York — who stopped by Hope Orchards. The pair of cider makers had spotted apples on the trees as they passed Hope Orchards and knocked on the door to inquire about availability.

"They were hard pressed to find apples, no pun intended," he said.

Mia Mantello said that Sewall Organic Orchard will still "maintain a presence" at The Common Ground Fair. They'll sell their apple cider vinegar and take the opportunity to commiserate with longtime customers —and to discuss the crop failure — the orchard's first-ever according to Mantello.

The Davises said their apples are good sized and they're optimistic about the crop in October.

"It's been interesting to hear all the stories — we feel fortunate to have a three-quarters crop," Brien Davis said.

Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at

Comments (2)
Posted by: James A Ostrowski | Sep 06, 2012 08:21

Great news Brien and Emily!  We'll be serving baked Maine apples to our guests this fall ... and plan, as usual to be sending our guests out to the orchard to pick!  They love the experience!   Cyndi & Jim Ostrowski ... Inns at Blackberry Common... Camden, ME

Posted by: Brien Davis | Sep 04, 2012 19:46

Don't let this article deter you from coming to Hope Orchards. Our Paula Reds are the biggest we've seen in Maine this year, and we have lots of them- starting to pick this Friday. The website has the updates for what we are picking each week. Looking forward to seeing you this fall, Brien and Emily

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