Trouble in apple valley

Northwest of the corner of Hitchings Road and Route 20 in Lafayette sits McLusky Orchards. Two brothers, James "Jamie" and Robert "Rob" McLusky, are the fourth generation to tend a revolutionary land grant that is now 100 plus acres. Most men have an intuitive interest in the weather; for the apple grower it is a compass they watch with eagle eyes. They view the local weather on television, often while listening to it on the radio and also their wired in National Weather Service. Temperatures aren't enough. They factor in dew points, low and high pressures and humidity with wind directions and speeds. Thermometers? These are everywhere.

Game on

On alert anyway, an alarm will sound to wake them in the night to get on frost patrol. Frost patrol? When the temperature dips down depending on the apple's stage of development. The buds can withstands temperatures as low as 16 in the early stages. This moves on a sliding scale, where the later the stage the warmer it has to be to keep the eventual fruit alive and healthy. This week, as CNY growers scan their trees in the final stages, apples are forming.

"At this point 32 degrees will mark the apple," Rob said, "Whereas 28 degrees will kill them."

The growers must also factor how much of a loss they can withstand versus the cost it takes to keep that amount of fruit alive. As with any other business, fuel cost is effecting the orchard that is groomed and worked with tractors. And consider when it comes to fighting frost, those stately wind machines are often employed. Each is $28,000 new and covers 10 acres, while burning up to 10 gallons of fuel in one hour.

This year's spring alert

CNY's apple growers have been in the news this year because the blossoming started at least 10 days ahead of schedule, a time period that would normal encompass three weeks of worry, picked up an extra two weeks.

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