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Several area orchards lost almost their entire crop of apples during the frost on May 18, 2023.

PUTNEY — Last week’s hard freeze has proven to be devastating for orchardists and farmers throughout Windham and Bennington counties.

Farm managers at Scott Farm in Dummerston and Green Mountain Orchards in Putney used the word “catastrophic” to describe the damage a few hours of 26 degree temperatures did to the 2023 apple crop.

The “fruitlets,” or tiny apples, were frozen and now show a black or brown inner core, revealing that there will be few apples available later this year, said Erin Robinson, orchard manager at Scott Farm.

Casey Darrow at Green Mountain Orchards said he was expecting a 100 percent crop loss in the orchard’s 90 acres of apples. But he said the one glimmer of hope is that while the damage to the 18 acres of blueberries was serious, it did not seem to be catastrophic. “There will be a blueberry crop,” he said.

But the crop losses go way beyond Windham and Bennington counties.

“The losses caused by the late spring frost is heartbreaking for those who produce fruits, produce, berries and wine,” said Anson Tebbetts, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. “The hard freeze will mean significant losses for our growers and those who make their living off fruits and vegetables. The extent of the damage may not be known for several weeks but early indications are discouraging.”

The University of Vermont Extension service is working with farmers and producers across the state to understand the scope of the damage, according to a release from the Agency of Agriculture. And Vermont’s Congressional delegation is also working with farmers and the Agency of Agriculture on the scope of the frost damage, and to see if there’s money available to cover the extensive losses.

“In my 25 years of working with fruit crops in Vermont, I have never seen frost or freeze damage this extensive. The widespread nature of this event is unprecedented, and has affected orchards and vineyards across the state,” said Terence Bradshaw, associate professor at the UVM Extension, fruit program.

Bradshaw, in a telephone interview, said his graduate students fanned out across the state to assess the damage. Orchards in the Champlain islands escaped frost, he said.

“My team is systematically collecting damage data across the region to help inform next steps to respond to this event. We expect a difficult season for growers and appreciate the continued support that our community provides to these vital operations that are so important to the Vermont agriculture community.”

Robinson, from Scott Farm, called the freeze and damage “heart-breaking,” and not just because of the loss of fruit. Scott Farm specializes in heirloom variety apples: it has 3,000 trees spread over 18 acres representing 130 different varieties.

Robinson said she was very upset with the impact on the immigrant farm workers from the island nation of Jamaica, who won’t be coming to Vermont to earn money to support their families. About eight workers will be affected, she said.

“It’s pretty catastrophic,” she said, estimating Scott Farm’s losses at 90 percent. “It was a powerless feeling not being able to do anything,” she said. The fruit could not withstand temperatures below freezing for five hours, she said.

“It’s a very challenging situation,” she said.


Homer Dunn, orchard manager at Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, N.H., and Todd Harlow at Harlow’s Family Farm in Putney, took a more “wait and see” approach.

Dunn and Harlow both said they were hoping that while they sustained widespread damage due to the low temperatures, that some of the crop would survive.

Harlow said he was waiting for the traditional “June drop,” the natural thinning of the crop, before making an assessment of the May 17-18 heavy frost/freeze.

Things might not be so dire for the blueberry crop, the fruit farmers all said. The state’s peach growers already lost that crop due to temperatures of 18 below zero back in February.

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Andrew Knafel said Clear Brook Farm in Shaftsbury spent a lot of time covering crops two days ahead of the frost.

“We have an acre and a half of blueberries, and my best guess we lost 60 percent just because there’s no real easy way to frost protect those,” he said.

“We knew it was coming. We knew the blueberries were at risk so did what everyone else in New England does.”

Some berry growers have irrigation for frost protection, Knafel explained. The bushes are coated in a thin layer of ice that protects the buds and flowers from the frost that actually kills them. But such systems are more practical for larger growing operations — and the ice that protects the fruit can also damage the tree.

Blueberry bushes are 5 to 6 feet tall, making crop cover impractical as well. “You can’t do that on a bush, it would rip through it.”

At Wildwood Berry Farm in East Dorset, Rick Travers said his farm did not have massive damage.

“Right now the preliminary look is I’ve been looking at the petals. I don’t have massive damage. And I’d define massive as 25 percent,” he said, noting that apple orchards got hit worse because apple trees flower earlier in the spring.

“If we had only late varieties that might be ripening in late August we’d have barely any impact. We have earlier varieties,” he said.

Travers is also concerned about the long-term impact on the pollinators — bees, hummingbirds and butterflies among them — that help turn flowers into fruit.

He suggested thinking of his berry bushes as a buffet where pollinators know there’s going to be plenty of food. “We work hard to get pollinators and keep them,” he said. “If we don’t have that buffet for them they’re going to move and won’t be around next year when the crop comes back.

“It’s a multifaceted problem — not just the fruit we lose,” he said.

Scott Waterman, a spokesman for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, said farmers are being urged to report their losses to the local Farm Service Agency office, part of U.S. Department of Agriculture, in an effort to generate federal help.

Waterman said it wasn’t just apple orchardists who were hit hard by the low temperatures: the state’s fledgling vineyard business saw vines wither in the cold as well.

State agriculture leaders visited Shelburne Vineyard on Monday to see the crop losses.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) provides crop protection for weather related losses in certain circumstances.

Darrow, whose operation does have crop insurance, said it would only provide about 25 percent of the farm’s losses, since the insurance is based on a five-year average, and “commodity” prices.

For a smaller operation like Harlow’s, which has nine acres in apples, such crop insurance doesn’t make sense, Todd Harlow said.

To Bradshaw, the UVM professor, there is no doubt in his mind that climate change played a large part in last week’s devastation. Weather is much more erratic with climate change, he said, and a string of 80 to 90 degree days pushed the trees and bushes out of dormancy, earlier.

While it did cool down, he said, the timetable was put ahead.

But he said the freeze, noting use of the term freeze rather than frost, was unprecedented that late in May.

“We’re hoping for help on the federal level,” he said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at