Extreme weather afflicting Upper Valley farmers

A day after the first boil of the maple season at his family’s Patch Orchards, Artie Patch taps trees and checks sap lines in Lebanon, N.H., on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023. Mild temperatures pushed the first boil a week earlier than last season’s, which was short and produced less syrup than a more typical season for the family. Patch’s mother Barbara credits good air flow at the 1,200 foot elevation of their apple orchard with saving 50% of the fruit during a late freeze in May that devastated crops for many other area orchards in 2023. “Nature gives and nature takes away, so you’ve got to learn,” said Barbara Patch. “That’s why we diversified.” In addition to their pick-your-own and wholesale apple distribution, they were able to use frost-damaged apples for the hard cider they make. “I can’t move my orchard to a higher elevation,” said Paul Franklin of Riverview Farm in Plainfield, N.H., who lost the majority of his pick-your-own apple crop in the freeze. With his more than ten acres of trees, it’s impractical to try to irrigate trees during a freeze to create a protective layer of ice, or invest in propane orchard heaters, he said. “None of us want to get through another year like this by looking for a handout,” said Franklin of two bills in the New Hampshire Senate that would provide financial help for farmers affected by last year’s freeze and future natural disasters. “It won’t hurt, but it’s not the answer.” The only solutions, said Franklin, are to “get serious” about climate change and try to learn from the severe weather experienced in 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

A day after the first boil of the maple season at his family’s Patch Orchards, Artie Patch taps trees and checks sap lines in Lebanon, N.H., on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023. Mild temperatures pushed the first boil a week earlier than last season’s, which was short and produced less syrup than a more typical season for the family. Patch’s mother Barbara credits good air flow at the 1,200 foot elevation of their apple orchard with saving 50% of the fruit during a late freeze in May that devastated crops for many other area orchards in 2023. “Nature gives and nature takes away, so you’ve got to learn,” said Barbara Patch. “That’s why we diversified.” In addition to their pick-your-own and wholesale apple distribution, they were able to use frost-damaged apples for the hard cider they make. “I can’t move my orchard to a higher elevation,” said Paul Franklin of Riverview Farm in Plainfield, N.H., who lost the majority of his pick-your-own apple crop in the freeze. With his more than ten acres of trees, it’s impractical to try to irrigate trees during a freeze to create a protective layer of ice, or invest in propane orchard heaters, he said. “None of us want to get through another year like this by looking for a handout,” said Franklin of two bills in the New Hampshire Senate that would provide financial help for farmers affected by last year’s freeze and future natural disasters. “It won’t hurt, but it’s not the answer.” The only solutions, said Franklin, are to “get serious” about climate change and try to learn from the severe weather experienced in 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

James Pike, of Sunapee, right, leaves the Patch Orchards store with an armful of hard cider he bought from Barbara Patch, left, on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023. Patch said that losses to her apple crop would have been worse, but some frost damaged apples from a freeze last May were able to be used for cider. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

James Pike, of Sunapee, right, leaves the Patch Orchards store with an armful of hard cider he bought from Barbara Patch, left, on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023. Patch said that losses to her apple crop would have been worse, but some frost damaged apples from a freeze last May were able to be used for cider. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

By JAMES M. PATTERSON

Valley News Staff Photographer

Published: 12-30-2023 7:57 PM

Modified: 01-02-2024 12:42 PM


Barbara Patch credits good air flow at the 1,200 foot elevation of her family’s Lebanon apple orchard with limiting the damage from a May freeze that devastated crops. The Patches saved around 50% of their fruit.

The killing frost was just one example of the extreme weather that afflicted Upper Valley farmers this year. Heavy rain through the summer stunted vegetables, and unseasonable warmth last winter led to a short maple season.

“Nature gives and nature takes away, so you’ve got to learn,” Patch said. “That’s why we diversified.”

In addition to their pick-your-own and wholesale apple distribution, they were able to use frost-damaged apples for the hard cider they make.

“I can’t move my orchard to a higher elevation,” said Paul Franklin of Riverview Farm in Plainfield, who lost the majority of his pick-your-own apple crop in the freeze. With more than 10 acres of trees, it’s impractical to try to coat trees with a protective layer of ice during a freeze, or invest in propane orchard heaters, he said.

“None of us want to go through another year like this by looking for a handout,” said Franklin of two bills in the New Hampshire Senate that would provide financial help for farmers affected by last year’s freeze and future natural disasters. “It won’t hurt, but it’s not the answer.” The only solutions, said Franklin, are to “get serious” about climate change and try to learn from the severe weather experienced in 2023.

The year is ending on a discouraging note. Mild temperatures pushed the first maple sap boil at Patch Orchards to Dec. 27, a week earlier than last season, which was short and produced less syrup than a more typical season for the family.

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