MANCHESTER — Three local farmers said Thursday the drought hasn’t had much of an impact on their apple crop. One even said the drought has actually been good for her apples.

“There wasn’t the moisture to create scabbing problems and fungus,” said Marilyn Meyerhans, of Lakeside Orchards in Manchester. “The quality of the fruit is really good, and in some ways, the drought was good for apples because the disease pressure was lower.”

Meyerhans, along with apple farmers in Madison and Skowhegan, all said that their apple trees are old enough and established with deep roots that get enough moisture without relying on rainfall.

“Our trees are happy and healthy, and we’re not overstraining them to produce,” said Heather Davis, of Cayford Orchards in Skowhegan. “And actually, having a really dry spring helps with the overall management of the farm.”

Davis said that earlier in the season, she and her husband, Jason, thought they were about seven to 10 days ahead of schedule because of the heat and the excessive dryness. But the farm has received more rain since the middle of August, so things are starting to level out.

“We could certainly use (more rain),” Davis said.

Business is starting to pick up at orchards across the area, and the pick-your-own apples season will be in full swing in the next few weeks.

When the weather starts to get cool and kids go back to school, “it’s like someone turns on a switch and it’s amazing,” Meyerhans said while several customers shopped at her orchard’s store on Readfield Road.

Judy Dimock, of North Star Orchards in Madison, said her trees had just enough rainfall to get by.

“We appreciate the crisp weather, and we need more of that,” Dimock said. “It’ll inspire customers to come out and pick apples.”

Dimock said it’s too early in the season to begin making comparisons to last year, but she said the fruit is a little slower to change color because of the heat. She doesn’t think the drought is as alarming for the crop she’s growing when compared to other farmers across the state.

The State Drought Task Force met last week for just the second time since 2002 to discuss what officials called worsening drought conditions around most of the state.

The southern portion of the state continues to be the most severely affected and severe drought conditions were expected to reach as far as Wiscasset.

The state’s blueberry crop hasn’t been impacted much by the drought, either. Last month, officials from the state’s Wild Blueberry Commission said this year’s crop was tracking to be slightly below normal.

The hay crop, however, has been severely affected by the drought. Because of good weather, the first hay crop was great, said Richard Kersbergen, an extension professor in the sustainable dairy and forage systems field at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

“But in certain parts of the state, the second and third crop of hay is either substantially reduced or non-existent,” he said late last month. “This is one of the drier years I’ve ever seen.”

Turns out that being dry is bad for hay, but good for apples.

Meyerhans was concerned earlier in the season when she picked her first batch of organic apples. Her orchard has sandy soil in the organic section that was a little drier, so the apples were smaller in that spot.

“I called my insurance company to register some concerns because of how tiny the first block of organic apples was,” Meyerhans said. “But it turned out not to be as bad as we thought.”

Dimock joked that as a farmer, she always expects the worst, but Meyerhans said she doesn’t expect the worst, but rather she’s always waiting for the other shoe to drop. She said they’ve seen hail storms wipe out everything and have had seasons where almost everything is perfect.

“I think this is an average year,” Meyerhans said. “We were sweating it for a bit and some things got stressed.”

At the Davis’ orchards in Skowhegan, Heather Davis expects their pumpkins and squash to be smaller than years past because they need constant rain throughout the season. But Meyerhans said her pumpkins are the best she’s ever had. It’s all about your location, Davis added.

“I feel like everybody is super eager to get out and (pick apples),” Davis said. “It’s such a fall tradition to pick apples, take a hayride and then watch some football.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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