LONG REACH, N.B. -- The arrival of fall means harvest season for many Maritime farmers.

While a summer drought and pandemic made it a challenging growing season for farmers, at least one popular crop seems to have flourished.

“A piece of advice for everybody… take somebody tall to the orchard!” jokes Chas MacKay, from his apple orchard in Long Reach, New Brunswick.

McIntosh apples are one of the 20 apple varieties growing at MacKay’s U-Pick orchard overlooking the Saint John River.

MacKay has tended about 1,200 apple trees over the past three decades, and says there’s nothing like the magic of the harvest that occurs every September.

“Like two weeks before you pick them, they’re still kind of green and hidden. And then, all of a sudden, the colour changes, you can see them and it’s like the lights have been turned on!” describes MacKay.

These days, those lights are being turned on in orchards and fields across the Maritime region, despite a troubling year.

Many Maritime farmers say they experienced some of the worst drought conditions in recent memory this summer. But the good news is a lot of apples survived the drought better than expected, a big relief for farmers like MacKay.

“You always expect the worst, hope for the best, and get something in the middle,” says MacKay.

While not all crops will be so lucky this year, experts say apple trees are built for adversity.

“When you take trees like apple trees, that have really deep root systems, they can go in search of water a long ways down and a long ways out, more than people think,” explains Jim Landry of Landscape New Brunswick.

The annual September harvest comes after a full year of work, including tree pruning and maintaining the orchard.

“People that are in farming, they get it, but not too many other people do,” says MacKay. “It’s a lot of work, and you sell everything in a short window, and then you start all over again.”

After one of the more difficult seasons in recent memory, Maritime apple growers can finally begin to enjoy the fruits of their labour,