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US: Apple season a mixed bag across Wisconsin

Apples are ripe for the picking and some orchards across Wisconsin have trees loaded with fruit, yet others have found this season challenging.

With more than 300 commercial orchards, comprising about 6,500 acres in 57 of Wisconsin's 72 counties, nearly 900,000 trees produce about 60 million pounds of fruit worth more than $15 million per year, according to the Dane County Conservation League.

Most of the commercial acreage is in four locations in the state. The most concentrated areas are: Crawford and Richland Counties (1,300 acres), Door County area (824 acres), Bayfield and Chippewa Counties (840 acres), and the greater Milwaukee area (900 acres).

Plentiful crop
While the crop is plentiful at Sunset Valley Orchard in Bayfield, owner Craig Johnson said apples are slow to ripen because of the the cool summer in the northern part of Wisconsin.

At Choice Orchards in Door County, orchard manager Glenn Musil is seeing an average crop with some varieties producing more, some less.

In Washburn County, Smith's Poquette Lake Orchard in Shell Lake, has a great crop this year, probably because "we froze out last year," said Lynn Smith, who owns the orchard with her husband Bob. 

"We had to thin apples all summer to take the load off the trees," said Smith. 

South of Eau Claire, Ferguson's Orchard is experiencing a "really good," apple harvest also, said owner Andy Ferguson. They avoided "Mother Nature's two main perils of apple orchards," spring frost and "the 'H' word - hail." 

When trees were blossoming this spring, it wasn't "even close to any dangerous temperatures," in the Eau Claire area, "so we made it past that," Ferguson pointed out. Hail missed their area as well. 

Ferguson added that the crop is "a little bigger than usual," at their orchard this year. He attributes that to last year's weather when a spring freeze got to "a fair amount" of their trees, resulting in fewer apples last year.

"They came back stronger than ever with way more apples to make up for that," said Ferguson. "Apples naturally want to be a biennial producer, so they have a bunch of apples one year and then take a break."

Commercial growers manually thin down the apples to get production more consistent every year, Ferguson added. 

The recent heat spell "kind of pressed pause for a couple of days," on apples reddening and getting ready to be picked. 

"When they get towards the end in the fall, they like the cool nights, it speeds up the coloring process, bringing out that nice red color," Ferguson explained. 

Challenging season
In the southwest part of the state, Shihata Orchard didn't fare as well with the 'H' word. 

"We had a couple of hail storms go through our orchard," said Linda Shihata. "That's always a fun thing for an orchard owner." 

The hail accounted for about 15 percent damage in the orchard. Adding to the "challenging" season Shihata Orchard has faced this year was a tornado that went through and snapped off spots on trees.

With the cool summer, apples didn't ripen on time and they are seven to 10 days behind in their picking schedule. Then the recent heat didn't provide the cool nights to make the apples sweeter.

"It's been interesting," said Shihata. 

The orchard is an agriculture tourism destination and the only orchard in the area that offers you-pick apples, "so people will come not just for apples, but pumpkins, gourds," said Shihata. "We get a pretty nice crowd."

It's been a tough year at Armstrong Orchards in Fond du Lac County in the Campbellsport area, according to owner Lisa Klein. 

The rainy summer made controlling scab difficult at Armstrong Orchards. When harvesting, apples with scabs go into cider or the bakery or something else and doesn't make a saleable apple, Klein explained, resulting in lower apple sales. 

For Klein, the growing season this year is "much shorter." 

"Because of the weather, everything came at once," Klein said. "The stuff that we normally wait for a frost for, is ripe and ready. Everything is ripe and ready right now. It's not taking the normal amount of time."

Usually a tree is picked four times as apples ripen. 

"This year everything ripened very quickly," said Klein. "We think we will be out of apples in three to four weeks, which is about a month earlier than usual." 

Publication date: 10/5/2017


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