London Community News
Spread out on Ernie Muzylowsky’s kitchen table is a large map of Ontario and Quebec.
He’s plotting a trip to the belle province with three other growers in search of apples to sell at his farm, since his crop was decimated thanks to a warm March and cold April.
“We’ve lost our crop due to frost in April. So we have basically no fruit on the trees and we’ve lost our peach crop as well,” said Muzylowsky, who owns Apple Land Station, a family farm theme park just east of London.
“The trees were too early too soon and we knew in March we were going to be in trouble. Because when you can walk around in the short-sleeve shirt pruning the second week of March, something’s wrong.
“The trees got going, they got excited, and that’s what nature does, and we got the consequences of the frost.”
In the past, the weather has cost Muzylowsky part of his apple crop — which can total 500 bins of apples in a normal year.
But he said he, and most other Ontario farmers, have never experienced such a terrible crop failure.
“It’s probably the worst frost season we’ve ever seen.”
Muzylowsky is still optimistic when he looks ahead to the fall, however, as he and his family have been planning to mitigate the farm’s agricultural losses.
Many people know Apple Land for the experience of riding the old-fashioned train through the orchard to pick apples or exploring sand castle mountain and Muzylowsky said the farm will have to rely on such attractions, as well as new features, this year more than in the past.
He is busy at work building a second train to take visitors on tours through the apple trees and the farm’s bakery is being expanded.
There’s also a new automated singing chicken show, as well as a corn maze, and Muzylowsky plans to hand out miniature pumpkins, instead of apples, to students taking part in the frequent school tours which come to the farm.
And, he promised, if all goes well in Quebec, you will be able to find apples at the farm.
“They’ll be underneath a tent and they’ll be picking out of a bin instead of picking them off a tree, but at least we’ll have apples.”
Even though two-thirds of his family’s income depends on the agriculture produced at the farm, Muzylowsky is confident that, thanks to the additions to the theme park, he’ll make out better than most other farmers this fall and winter.
“We’re not like other apple growers that grow apples and then they put them in a bin and they go off to a packing plant and they have nothing else. Here we’re more of an entertainment venue and an education venue. So we got a lot of good things going for us,” he said. “We have a line of credit, we’ve had to borrow money to do some projects to make the bakery bigger. We’ve got our necks stuck out a mile long.”
As for other apple farmers across the province, Brian Gilroy, chair of the Ontario Apple Growers association, said roughly 65 per cent have crop insurance and there is an “income stabilization program that will support them significantly.”
“For the 35 per cent of growers who don’t have production insurance or crop insurance, it will be a significant financial hit.”
And even though insurance will help a number of growers this year, there will be serious consequences down the road, since the provincial insurance plan is based on an historic six-year average of production.
“So if we have basically a zero this year, you know what that does to an average moving forward so we’re going to be negatively impacted by this for the next six years.”
The association has nearly 250 members.
Consumers will also be hit in their wallets this fall, Gilroy said, as there will be “dramatically fewer” apples in supermarkets.
Varieties most susceptible to freezing temperatures, such as Empire and McIntosh, will also largely be absent from the produce bins.
Gilroy added there is no doubt apples will be more expensive in the months ahead.
“My best guess at this point in time is that apple prices will go up 20 to 25 per cent at retail and certain varieties may go up higher,” he said.
Overall, only 15 per cent of Ontario’s average apple crop will come off the trees during harvest this year.
“Of those, 30 to 50 per cent will be damaged by the cold temperatures, so they’ll be misshapen or have a frost scar on them,” Gilroy said.
And it’s all due to what Gilroy describes as a “weather phenomenon like we’ve never seen before.”
“It’s affected the apple industry worse than we’ve ever been affected,” he said. “It’s a one-in-100-year scenario.”