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Freeze destroys apple orchard

Patricio Robayo
Posted 6/6/23

MOUNTAINDALE—Brett Budde, a farmer and co-owner of Majestic Farm in Mountaindale, was greeted by a devastating sight one May morning. Unseasonably cold weather had swept through Sullivan …

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Freeze destroys apple orchard


MOUNTAINDALE—Brett Budde, a farmer and co-owner of Majestic Farm in Mountaindale, was greeted by a devastating sight one May morning. Unseasonably cold weather had swept through Sullivan County, causing a sudden freeze that enveloped the area. 

As Budde ventured out to assess the aftermath of the frost, he discovered that his entire apple crop had succumbed to the icy grip of the freeze.

Walking through the orchard, he saw the remnants of what should have been a fruitful season as all his recent apple blooms were frozen. 

“They looked like frozen peas,” lamented Budde.

Budde, a seasoned orchard farmer with over a decade of experience, expressed his disbelief at the situation, stating, “I’ve never seen a total crop loss like this before.”

The freeze event lasted for two hours, with temperatures dropping as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit, and had catastrophic consequences for Budde’s orchard. 

According to Budde, apple trees are resilient to cold temperatures until they reach around 28 degrees for 30 minutes, resulting in a 10 percent crop loss. At 24 degrees Fahrenheit for the same duration, the loss rate jumps to 90 percent. With temperatures dipping to 25 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours, the outcome was inevitable—complete devastation.

Budde has about four acres on a 25-acre farm dedicated to organic apple trees and approximately 2,500 apple trees of different varieties. They were expecting a massive year, “We were excited about it,” said Budde. 

The farm is currently in the process of obtaining its liquor license to sell beer and wine. The goal was to provide new beverages to the apple pickers who visit during the fall season. 

“People [can] come out, enjoy a drink, pick some apples, eat some food, and now that’s on hold,” added Budde. 

Budde also had a challenging year last year, with a low crop yield that prevented them from opening for apple picking. “I’m just shocked; it’s two years in a row,” added Budde.

Budde explained that the winter season had been marked by minimal snowfall and unseasonably warm temperatures. This led to the premature budding of his apple trees, leaving them vulnerable to frost damage later in the season.

Nevertheless, Budde expresses gratitude for the diversity of his farm business, which he manages together with his wife Sara and their son, Rocket. He highlights that while the apple crop is a significant portion of their business, it comprises only about one-third of their overall farm operations.

At Budde’s farm, they provide an attraction known as “farm tourism,” which involves offering tiny homes scattered throughout the farm premises.

“We have basically wooden tents, and people stay in them overnight, and there’s a communal outdoor kitchen for people to use. The spots are very private, and there’s only four of them here, and people seem to love that,” said Budde, who built the tiny homes himself. 

In addition, the farm raises heritage pork and free-range chicken and primarily sells these products at the farmers’ markets located in Rock Hill and Westchester, N.Y.

“We’re really supported by the local community and Sullivan County, for the most part,” said Budde. 

As Budde plans to rebuild and focus on next year’s season, he remains hopeful for a better future. 

Climate and Development 

While Budde is cautious about attributing specific events solely to climate change, he believes that society must recognize the need for sustainable practices to mitigate its effects. 

He believes that climate change is happening on a massive scale and argues that it would be foolish to deny its existence.

“Any farmer will tell you things are changing,” said Budde. 

He points to the changing weather patterns and extreme events he has witnessed, such as an uncommonly dry summer and record-breaking lack of snowfall. 

“Right now. I’m going to have to water my orchard for three weeks; this never happened before in the springtime,” said Budde. 

Furthermore, Budde expresses concern about the ongoing development in Fallsburg, where several large housing projects are currently being constructed. This rapid development has strained the town’s water and sewer infrastructure, leading to Fallsburg’s current crisis as reported by the Democrat. 

He shares his experience of two wells running dry during the recent drought last summer — highlighting the severe implications for farmers who rely on water for their animals and crops. 

Although Budde’s farm may not have apples available for picking this fall, he invites people to explore the Majestic Heritage camping experiences. 

Budde is encouraging you to visit their website and check out their Instagram page @majesticfarmheritage to learn more about these offerings. 

Budde also welcomes everyone to meet them in person at the Rock Hill Farmer’s Market on Saturdays this summer. 


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