A tough year for apple growers in New England faces even more complications with the arrival of Hurricane Lee, which could lead to damaged trees in the region.
Impacts from the cyclone are expected to be felt over the weekend, with heavy rainfall and gusty winds from Connecticut to Maine.
Apple growers say the soil is already saturated, and any significant wind gusts have the potential to tip over trees.
Jeff Timberlake’s family has operated Ricker Hill Orchards in southwestern Maine since the early 1800s and said this summer has been particularly tough.
"It’s been the wettest year that I can ever remember. And I’m an eighth generation on this farm, and my dad is a seventh generation and says the same thing. It’s been saturated all summer, and we’re very concerned about winds creating a rocking motion and tipping the trees over," Timberlake stated.
Timberlake said his crews have been busy over the last couple of days preparing the farm for the most significant hurricane threat in nearly 15 years.
Efforts include picking around 40 pounds off some of the smaller trees and making sure wires are secure to withstand the wind gusts.
"We’re hoping for the best, but we’ve had years in the past where we’ve tipped over whole rows of trees before, and once you tip them over, you can never stand them back up again. So, you lose your trees and the crop, and it’ll be a few years down the road, or you can bring it back," said Timberlake.
The sweet fruit is considered to be one of the most valuable crops in the U.S., and according to the Agriculture Marketing Resource Center, just over 10.5 billion pounds of apples were produced in the U.S. in 2021.
Growers prefer to have a slightly drier than average season because they say the lack of moisture can reduce the threat of diseases and make the fruit sweeter tasting.
Orchard growers in New England are already preparing for cleanup and recovery after the storm and say the public can help their local growers.
"The best people can do up here in New England is go up to the you-pick, come up to the farm - Ricker Hill – You know we’ll be open on Sunday. It looks like a good day you’re predicting for us, and help us clean up this mess by picking up some of our apples. I think that’s an important thing to do right now to help the local farmers," said Timberlake.