Monday, November 07, 2016

Apple growers explain how rising temperatures wreak havoc on their orchards

By Jeremy Deaton
Oct. 17, 2016


When we talk about climate and food, our gaze tends to drift overseas, where heat and drought are punishing subsistence farmers. But the carbon crisis is hurting American farmers, too.

Apple growers in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley face a tougher climate than they did a generation ago. Heather McKay, co-owner of Marker-Miller Orchards, says that, today, “It seems like the weather is more extreme.”


Apple trees are particularly sensitive to small deviations in temperature. A 2013 study published in the journal Nature found warmer weather is robbing apples of their tart flavor and crunchy texture. In some instances, it is derailing production.

“If you start getting warm temperatures in February, these blossoms will be blooming in March and not April, and then you have the possibility of freezing,” said McKay. A single cold snap can ruin the harvest.

Across the country, warming is reconfiguring ecosystems — drying some, drenching others. Fertile lands are drifting north, and in some cases, disappearing altogether. For now, the Shenandoah Valley marks the southern edge of the Atlantic apple-producing region, but climate change threatens to drive out decades-old Virginia orchards.


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