About six months ago, New Yorkers experienced a winter that was warmer than usual. Now, the extreme weather patterns are taking a toll on many farms, including one orchard that had its cherry season cut short due to, what its owners say is climate change.
“Can I have another glass of wine, please?” said Steve Clarke, owner of the Prospect Hill Orchard. It’s his preferred way of approaching a conversation with a climate change denier.
“What do you say to somebody like that? I mean, ya know, you’re stupid? You don’t see the world as it is? I just… that’s not an argument you want to get into,” said Clarke.
He said this year’s vineyard yield is the worst in the orchard’s 200-year history. Due to record-setting warm temperatures in January, followed by a bout of cold air, the orchard lost almost its entire cherry and peach crop.
“That tree should have 10 times as many cherries, 20 times as many cherries as what’s on there,” said Clarke as he walked through rows of his orchard.
The family has done just about everything in its power to avoid circumstances like this, including planting their crop on top of a ridge in Milton, located in Ulster County, he said.
Higher elevation normally means higher temperatures, but that wasn’t the case last winter.
“This should have been a great spot, but it wasn’t that night,” said Clarke as he looked out over the ridge his orchard has called home for seven generations.
Because of that, the orchard took to social media to announce its temporary closure for the summer. The loyal customer base sent nothing but support in return and is patiently waiting for the fall’s apple crop.
“They certainly understand… they've kind of said, ‘We're sorry and we hope you have a good crop next year,’” said Clarke.
He said that he never intended on retiring from the orchard, and that’s convenient as they dip into reserves to get through this summer.
“Which is probably OK because if I don’t retire, then I don’t really need a retirement. Some of those funds will go into keeping the operation running and planning for the future. Being a family business, you do for your kids, and maybe your grandkids, what you need to do,” said Clarke.
While their orchard roads are closed for the next few weeks, they fully intend to open their row for apple picking this coming fall. In fact, their trees are stocked with fruit.
While limbs are weighed down with apples, the farm is weighed down with hefty decisions about the future. Clarke said that may be in an industry that’s a little less weather-dependent.
“There are more profitable things to do with your life, I think. I’m probably being a little negative, but that’s kind of the view of a lot of people at this point,” said Clarke.