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Island apple growers look back on 'heartbreaking' toll Fiona took on trees

Tuesday, November 22nd 2022, 7:40 am - Years of expansion at P.E.I. orchards wiped out by storm

Apple growers on Prince Edward Island are ending the 2022 season on a historic low, following post-tropical storm Fiona.

Damage from the storm has wiped out virtually all of this year's apple harvest, and with it, a decade of rapid expansion, according to a group representing orchardists.

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The storm hit the Maritimes in late September, knocking out power, damaging homes and roads, and downing trees in cities and forests.

"This hurricane hit at exactly the wrong moment," said Geoff Boyle, president of the P.E.I. Tree Fruit Growers Association. "It's just devastating, heartbreaking."

apple-orchard-damage P.E.I. lost about 20 per cent of its half-million apple trees, according to the P.E.I. Tree Fruit Growers Association. Most of them were planted within the past decade. (PEI Tree Fruit Growers Association)

Fiona knocked about "four million pounds" of apples off trees, according to Boyle, reducing harvests in the Island's 500 acres of apple orchards by 80 to 100 per cent, depending on the location of the orchard.

He said about 20 per cent of the Island's half million apple trees were destroyed.

As winter approaches, growers are scrambling to clean up what they can — removing toppled trees and replacing posts, wires and trellis structures. The cost of repairs will be in the millions of dollars, said Boyle.

apple-orchard-damage Growers are scrambling to finish cleanup of damaged orchards before the snow flies. (Geoff Boyle)

After a decade of unprecedented expansion, the storm delivered a gut punch to P.E.I.'s orchard industry.

Over the past 10 years, P.E.I.'s orchard acreage increased fivefold, according Boyle. Apple orchards take about five years to reach commercial production, and this was supposed to be the year that all those years of effort began to bear fruit.

"People are just at the beginnings of starting to harvest from those trees that they've put their time and money into," said Boyle.

Crop insurance will cover only a portion of losses, he said, and young orchards not yet in production don't meet criteria for crop insurance compensation to owners. Crop insurance provides only about 25 per cent coverage for high-value apple varieties on P.E.I. such as Honey Crisp, according to Boyle.

RELATED: Fiona displaced, damaged hundreds of aids to navigation in Atlantic Canada

"That's something we'll be looking at in the next few months ... address the changes in value of these crops and the costs involved."

In the days following Fiona, growers discovered that information is "quite limited" on how to repair a hurricane-damaged orchard, said Boyle. Fiona may give P.E.I. growers some hard-earned experience they'll be able to share with others in years to come.

"We're kind of creating the pathway on how to deal with this stuff," he said.

Boyle does not believe the price of apples in grocery stores will be affected by the loss of the P.E.I. crop. Suppliers from other parts of Canada and the world can easily fill the demand, he said.

This article, written by Brian Higgins, was originally published for CBC News.

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