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Orchards hurt by spring frost, summer hail

People craving a fresh local apple have had to search a little harder this year. Apple growers throughout southern Minnesota are reporting a lackluster harvest after a late spring frost damaged blossoms.

The Cannon Valley Orchard in Cannon Falls reported that its harvest was just a quarter of typical levels. Owner Nick Lucking attributed the loss to a spring frost that occurred around Mother's Day.

"It was pretty devastating for us," he said.

The damage was especially severe at Afton Apple near Hastings, which lost half of its crop in the spring to frost and then the rest of its crop to hail this summer.

"In 21 years, we've never lost the entire crop," Femling said. "We've had hail before, but it usually only makes a little ding on the apple, but this year it sliced the apples open and split them in half."

Afton Apple also lost its strawberry crop to frost.

"When you work with natures, sometimes it works along with you and sometimes it doesn't," Randy Sambolt, who drives the hayride at Afton Apple, said.

Afton Apple is the largest orchard in the area, with 70 acres, that does "pick-your-own."

Since Afton Apple has lost its entire crop, visitors cannot pick from the trees, and the apples in the store are having to be brought in from other Minnesota orchards.

"'Pick your own' is a privilege," Femling said. "People don't know how lucky they've been to be able to pick their own all these years.

"We really need their support this year to keep us going for next year."

@Sub heads:Good in Lake City

@Normal1: At Pepin Heights Orchard in Lake City, Vice President Tim Byrne reported a relatively full crop this year. The cooling affect of Lake Pepin delays the bloom period at the orchard, meaning vulnerable blossoms missed the worst of the cool weather this spring.

Byrne said the full crop puts the orchard in a good position to capitalize on poor harvests throughout the eastern seaboard, where the orchard ships many of its apples.

"It certainly has aided us in our out-of-town business," he said.

At McDougall's Apple Junction near Hastings, only a small percentage of apples were lost to the May frost.

"We feel very blessed that we were able to get through this season without really bad weather," McDougall said. "We are okay, but there have so many orchards that have been hit - it's so unfortunate."

McDougall said visitors are still able to pick in the orchard.