Why is the Finger Lakes region so perfect for apple growing?

Weather Blog

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Apple picking season is here! With temperatures already feeling so fall-like over this past week, it’s hard not to get excited about what’s to come this Fall season. Apple and pumpkin picking, hayrides, sweater weather… can you tell it’s a personal favorite of mine?

Now that we’re diving into the first week of September the look and feel of Fall isn’t too far away from sticking around for a bit. That is, until winter begins and it starts, well, never mind that. I won’t go there quite yet.

New York State is a major apple producing state and has been for over 100+ years. This may come as no surprise given that our own state fruit is the apple, but NYS is the second largest apple producing state in the country. The first is Washington state, producing over half of the nation’s domestically grown apples.

NYS grows almost 30 million bushels of apples annually (around 29.5 bushels to be exact).

Map of Main Apple Districts in 1917

Image courtesy: nysed.org

Did you know? The primary apple growing regions in the state include the Eastern and Western Hudson Valley, Central Lakes, the Champlain Valley and our very own southern shores of Lake Ontario including the Niagara Frontier. There are over 50,000 apple bearing acres within 6 major production districts. The major apple producing counties within these districts include Wayne, Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Ulster, Clinton, Columbia, Orange, Onondaga and Dutchess.

In the latest U.S. Agriculture Census (2017), Wayne county is the 3rd highest apple producing county in the entire country.

The peak of apple picking season around here runs from about August 27th to October 15th, so technically we are just getting into the peak of the season now.

Apples and Climate

Weather and climate play a vital role in any crops life cycle, but the rich soils and variation of temperatures year round makes NYS the perfect climate for growing apples specifically. Apples can grow in almost any hardiness zone, but they grow best in climate’s that have cold winters, temperature summers and areas with moderate levels of humidity. That sounds just like us, right?

According to Clarkson University, apples do best in areas with a climate that has an equal amount of both cold and warm months. In fact, several varieties of apples require 600-1000 hours in temperatures below freezing. This allotted amount of time is known as the “chill hours”. A hardiness of about 5 meet those chill requirements with hardiness zones of 9-19 being considered low chill zones containing less chilling hours. 

During the warm summer months, most apple varieties are located where there are around 150 “frost-free” days. These areas contain hardiness zones of 5 as well. Any days with temperatures above 90 degrees can cause heat damage to apple trees as high heat halts the photosynthesis process and can stunt the growth process.

What’s especially damaging to an apple crop? Early heat waves in spring followed by an unseasonably late spring frost. This can cause premature budding with frosts having the ability to instantly kill or damage the apple buds, which can potentially ruin the crop for the season. Apple crops are not tolerant of droughts as they require regular watering every 7-10 days from April to August. Excess water can be detrimental as well, because oversaturated roots can lead to an increase in pests and cause damage to the foliage and root. As you can tell, apples require a fair amount of environmental factors to be kept in check, and sometimes the weather patterns don’t always cooperate.

Climate Change and Apples

According to the USDA, apples are very sensitive to any changes in temperature, water availability, solar radiation, air pollution, and carbon dioxide. With increasing temperatures due to climate change, this could have detrimental effects on apple crops as the cold seasons become less cold and the warm seasons become even warmer.

All of the variables listed above play a vital role in the changing climate, so it’s important to monitor any changes in trends that could have longer term effects on apple crops all over the world. The potential changes to apple crops include differences in taste and texture as longer or shorter growing times can affect the apple’s acidity and firmness in the long term.

Looking forward to apple picking this season but not sure which apples are right for you? Check out the apple guide below!

~Meteorologist Christine Gregory

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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