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It’s time for apple picking across the North Fork. (Credit: David Benthal)

Favorable weather. Strong bee pollination. Minimal pest damage. Everything aligned this year for some North Fork fruit farms to see one of their strongest apple crops in recent memory. 

“It’s probably the best I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Erick Lewin, owner of Lewin Farms in Calverton. “The trees are loaded and they’re all really perfect-looking apples, nice size to them and everything.”

Harbes Family Farm in Mattituck has seen a “record-breaking harvest,” said Ed Harbes Jr., and Wickham’s Fruit Farm has “never had a crop this full” in terms of yield per acre, said Thomas Wickham. 

Farmers attribute the abundance of apples to “abnormally wonderful weather” through most of the bloom period this spring — there was no late frost, Mr. Lewin said — and a summer with similarly favorable weather. Plus, thanks to busy bees, the pollination period was successful, farmers said. 

Not to mention, at least at Wickham’s Fruit Farm, new apple varieties have come into production this year. 

“These new varieties are very productive,” Mr. Wickham said. “That’s contributing to the sizable harvest we’re getting.”

Insect-related damage in Long Island orchards were also at the lowest levels seen in the past decade, said Faruque Zaman, an entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. Insect-related damage does not always necessarily impact the total tonnage of apples, but it might make the fruit appear less appealing, making marketing more difficult for U-pick farms on the North Fork — although, Mr. Zaman noted, heavy infestations can reduce total yield and profit.  

Mr. Zaman is part of an integrated pest management program through the cooperative extension, working closely with farmers to monitor and recommend control options for damage from insects and disease.

Farmer Tom Wickham tends to his apple crop in 2017. (Credit: David Benthal)

Timing is key, he emphasized; if not addressed early, problems can snowball. Cornell Cooperative Extension also makes recommendations to help farmers optimize the timing of pesticide applications, which can improve crop yield. 

The cooperative also offers more holistic pest control methods, such as mating disruption — a technique that releases synthetically-produced pheromones, a chemical that evokes responses among members of the same species, to make it more difficult for male insects to find and mate with female insects in orchards. Mating disruption decreases crop damage and the pest population over time, often to a negligible level, according to Mr. Zaman.

“We’re constantly working with these farmers throughout the year to manage and control pests and disease cycles,” said Deborah Aller, an agricultural stewardship specialist and soil scientist at CCESC. “We’ve been working with these growers for a long period of time and it’s a combined effort of entomologists, like Faruque, and other scientists here working directly with our farmers to help reduce pests and produce a better crop for farmers.”

The cooperative extension, with the help of tools from Cornell University, also monitors weather to predict potential infection periods, which can help minimize disease in local orchards. 

Mr. Wickham, who works with the cooperative extension, said it may be difficult to sell the entire crop. He said the farm primarily produces apples for retail markets and U-pick orchards, and will occasionally sell wholesale apples to other stores. 

“We have to get a pretty good price in order to make ends meet,” Mr. Wickham said, pointing out that it’s more expensive to grow apples on Long Island than in other regions. “When we have a surplus, as we’re probably going to have this year, ultimately the only thing we can do with them is to make cider.”

Mr. Harbes and Mr. Lewin both expressed hope that their farms will sell out of apples. 

“We typically run out of apples so it would be nice to have enough to get us through the season,” Mr. Harbes said, adding that the farm will likely donate any extra produce. 

Editor’s note: Deborah Aller was corrected from Debborah Aller.