Page last updated at 20:41 GMT, Monday, 18 July 2005 21:41 UK

Fruit growers lamenting 'apple stew'

By Martin Cassidy
BBC Northern Ireland rural affairs correspondent

Fruit growers in County Armagh are counting the cost of a heat wave which has left many apples cooked on the trees.

Damage is clear to see with the fragile apple skins burned brown
Damage is clear to see with the fragile apple skins burned brown

Orchard owners have been left wondering whether the stewed fruit was the result of a freak weather pattern or points to climate change.

The heatwave in the orchards began on 10 July and over the next few days growers say there was barely a breath of wind to help cool the fruit.

It was a "dead heat", says Graham Hewitt - who hasn't seen anything like it in 25 years of producing the famous bramley apple.

"At 32 degrees, the apple which was most exposed, just literally cooked, it was just coddled on the tree," he said.

Walking down the rows of heavily laden trees, Graham points to the damaged fruit on the south west canopy of each tree which took the brunt of the piercing rays of sunlight.

The damage is all too clear to see with the fragile apple skins burned brown.

It is clear that in many places the fruit melted under the intense heat.

Graham Hewitt hasn't seen anything like it in 25 years
Graham Hewitt hasn't seen anything like it in 25 years

Graham plucks one of the apples and breaks the fruit open to reveal how the cooking process had penetrated right to the core of the apple.

"This is a totally new phenomenon in Armagh, this was a totally freak weekend of weather, but you always have it in the back of your mind is global warming going to pose more of a problem when it comes to growing a crop?"

The loss of up to 15% of the crop is a particular concern for growers as they are currently negotiating contracts for the sale of this year's apple harvest.

The Fruit Growers' Association though has been quick to stress that there will be no shortage of bramleys.

Back in the orchards the damaged fruit is already beginning to fall from the trees and Graham Hewitt says that with 10 to 12 weeks of growing left, nature will compensate by making the remaining apples larger.

Apple growers are left to reflect on the unusual damage caused
Apple growers are left to reflect on the unusual damage caused

The skies above the apple trees are grey once again and temperatures have cooled in recent days.

But apple growers are left to reflect on the unusual damage caused by the intense heat.

In Armagh, orchard owners regularly contend with all sorts of adverse weather conditions.

Frost, wind and hail all take a heavy toll on the bramley crop.

But to that list now add the new worry of the sun and the damage it can inflict on local fruit crops.




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