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Wisconsin Apple, Grape Growers Report 'Beautiful' Crop This Fall Despite Ongoing Drought
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 09/14/2023

Sandy Jeffers, manager of Sunrise Orchards in Gays Mills, said her apple crops are looking great this fall.

But getting to harvest season took a bit more work than usual. Jeffers said they turned their irrigation system on in May and ran it for almost the entire summer, a very unusual need for their southwestern Wisconsin orchard.

"Usually we'll irrigate maybe four times a year or so, but not at all constant," she said. "But that's what we had to do for the apples. So you do it."

Drought conditions plagued much of Wisconsin this year, especially in southern parts of the state. The latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows counties including Vernon, Crawford and Richland have areas of exceptional drought, the highest rating possible. Extreme drought conditions cover much of southwestern Wisconsin, far northwestern region and in the south central region

While the drought caused concern for field crop growers, Wisconsin fruit producers say the dry weather was actually a good thing for many trees and vines.

Jeffers said they had a large enough harvest to be able to sell to other orchards in the area that were more affected by the drought. Thanks to irrigation, their fruit was the usual size. But she said the apples would have been smaller than most consumers want if they did not have constant watering.

She said harvest has been slightly earlier than normal for most varieties. But local customers have also been seeking out their apples and other products earlier than usual.

"They're ready to move on to the next season," she said. "It's a little bit cooler. I've had a few phone calls already asking me if the trees have started changing colors yet."

Bill Roethle, owner of Hillside Apples in Door County, said his apple trees had a great bloom this spring, with pollination lasting much longer than usual at his orchard. He said that means each tree has plenty of apples, and cool weather at night has helped the fruit reach its final stages.


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