Getting to the core of apple agriculture
Posted on 11 Oct 2023
"Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why?" - Bernard Baruch.
What can be more comforting than the smell of a delicious apple pie? Freshly baked and simply bursting with the wonderful aromas and flavors of a fruit that is loved by millions of people. Apples are found in virtually every market around the world, heralded for being both healthy and delicious, as well as being the source of inspiration to the occasional scientific genius.
It is thought that apples were first domesticated between 4000 and 10000 years ago by the dwellers of the Tian Shan mountains. These fruits then spread westwards along the well defined Silk Road to Siberia, the Caucasus and Europe. Today, there are estimated to be about 7,500 different varieties of apple available around the world, with global production exceeding 87 million tonnes per year, of which China produces 42 million tonnes.
As with other forms of agriculture, starting a sustainable apple orchard requires a combination of the right location, climate, soil and weather. A new orchard can take about eight years to produce the first commercial fruit, so a large amount of patience is also important.
The Impact of the Weather…
Although apple orchards are generally a resilient crop, some weather conditions can affect the crop yield, and even the flavor of the final produce. Cool temperatures would not damage the crop, however when temperatures fall towards freezing, damage can happen. Even if a crop does survive a period of cold weather, just four hours of near-freezing temperatures can have the effect of reducing the shelf life of the fruit.
A frost at any time of the growing season can cause varying amounts of damage - a spring frost can destroy vulnerable apple blossom, a mid-season cold spell can slow the growing process, while a late frost can weaken the more mature apples.
Talking from a meteorological perspective, not all ‘freezes’ are the same. Advection freeze and radiation freeze are two types of chilly spells that apple farmers are weary of.
An advection freeze occurs during the night and early morning when there are low wind speeds coupled with dry and cold conditions, radiating away any heat held within the plant and soil surrounding it. A radiation freeze happens when a layer of cold, dry air forms beneath a layer of warm air on a clear, calm night, and if the plant turns colder than the air, it can suffer damage.
Although apple trees are relatively resilient, they tend to thrive in climates where it's cold in the winter, moderate in the summer and has medium to high humidity rather than a hot and dry climate.
For this reason, having an accurate weather alert can give apple growers valuable time to apply frost protection methods such as covers, wind machines, heaters and water applications. The OpenWeather Global Weather Alerts can send push notifications for any location in the world. In addition, the One Call API 3.0 is a versatile product can be used to gauge the overall climate forecas.
Our Agro API that leverages the processing of large amounts of satellite and climate data, providing satellite imagery, vegetation indices and weather data as well as analytical reports and crop monitoring. These solutions can also be utilized by other industry sectors such as insurance and banking as they can be used as a farm rating tool.
Agro Dashboard: a visual service that monitors field states over the year. The service operates with satellite imagery and weather data along with advanced machine learning technologies.
Higher than average temperatures do not tend to be as damaging as sub-zero ones, they can affect the overall texture, color and flavor of an apple crop by reducing the ‘crispness’ of the fruit, as well as turning a red apple slightly pink in appearance.
Temperature is not the only factor in achieving the perfect crop, other weather conditions such as high wind speeds can shake apples off the trees, or even knock the entire tree over. Hail is also troublesome as it can tear fresh blossoms from the trees, or bruise the more mature fruit, making them impossible to sell.
Higher than average rainfall can cause the fruit to grow larger, and be less suitable for eating, and better for turning into juice or cider. Excessive rainfall can lead to molding, which can sometimes kill an entire crop. Whereas lower than average rainfall can create small, yet more flavorsome apples, more suitable for snacking or children’s lunch boxes.
An apple is not just for eating …
Although apples, like grapes, are well known as being a tasty and healthy snack, they also serve as the base ingredient for some refreshing beverages. Cider has been made for centuries. It is said that in 55 BCE Julius Caesar found the Celtic Britons fermenting cider from native crabapples, and has been a traditional beverage for centuries since. During the 19th century, farm workers were given a daily allowance of 2 to 3 liters of cider, which at the time was seen as being part of their wages.
Today, the global cider industry is estimated to be over £4 billion, with the UK industry being worth an estimated £1.6billion. In the UK, cider is produced mainly in the southern counties, with the taste varying according to the type of apples used, either by using specifically grown ‘cider apples’, or by blending eating apples. As with wine, cider growers are increasingly diversifying their revenue streams by offering experience days to tourists. Known as ‘Cider Routes’, tourists are driven to various producers, specialist retailers and even a cider museum in Herefordshire.
Traditionally, cider was produced in three main stages:
The raw apples were turned into a pulp by grinding them between two large stones, the pulp is gathered together into large, flat ‘cheeses’, that are stacked on top of each other, ready to be placed into a press.
The large press would squeeze the ‘stack’, producing the pure apple juice that would then be transferred into casks for the next fermentation stage. The remaining pulp would be used as a nutritious feed for farm animals.
Once in the casks, the natural yeats present in the apples will start the fermentation process, which will take up to six months. After this time, a wooden bung is hammered into the cask, which is then left for several more months for the cider to mature. Occasionally, the producer may add raisins, wheat. Barley and burnt sugar to the maturing cider to give a more distinctive flavor.
Like beer, there has been a revival in traditional, local, small-batch ciders that are sold alongside the well known brands, and produced the traditional way using oak casks. There is even a cider liqueur produced in Scotland.
Apples can be seen to be an extremely versatile fruit, can be eaten raw, made into sweets, salads, cider, and on occasion, used as a prompt for scientific genius.
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