Wisconsin apple and grape growers reported a “beautiful” crop this fall despite the ongoing drought
But getting to harvest took a little more work than usual. They turned on their irrigation system in May and kept it running almost all summer, a very unusual need for their orchard in southwestern Wisconsin, Jeffers said.
“We usually irrigate four times a year or so, but never continuously,” she said. “But that’s what we had to do for the apples. So do it.”
Dry conditions have plagued much of Wisconsin this year, especially in southern parts of the state. The latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that counties, including Vernon, Crawford and Richland, are in areas of exceptional drought, the highest possible designation. Extreme drought conditions cover much of southwestern Wisconsin, the extreme northwest and into the south-central region.
While the drought has field crop growers concerned, Wisconsin fruit producers say the dry weather has actually been a good thing for many trees and vines.
Jeffers said they have a large enough crop that they can sell to other orchards in the area that have been more affected by the drought. Thanks to irrigation, their fruits became the usual size. But she said the apples would have been smaller than most consumers wanted if they had not had constant watering.
She said the harvest was a little earlier than usual for most varieties. But local customers are also looking for apples and other produce earlier than usual.
“They are ready to move on to next season,” she said. “It’s a bit cooler. I’ve already had a few phone calls asking if the trees have started changing colors yet.”
Bill Rothel, owner of Hillside Apples in Door County, said his apple trees bloomed beautifully this spring, with pollination lasting much longer than usual in his orchard. This means each tree has plenty of apples, he said, and the cool weather at night helped the fruit reach its final stages.
“The red color in apples seems to come off very well,” he said. “Some years, it doesn’t come. Some years, it comes easy.”
Rothel also grows pumpkins in his orchard, which he said was more affected by the dry weather this year. These conditions prevented plants from growing during the first half of summer, but timely rainfall in recent weeks helped the fruits begin to fill in, he said.
“We’ve got the orange ones now, but some of the different things we’re doing, like the white stuff and so on, will all be down the road for sure,” he said.
While the apple harvest began several weeks ago, the state’s cranberry growers are still just a few weeks away from bringing in their crops.
Dave Hansen, director of DuBay Cranberry Company, said it was a good season for many producers and the state is expected to have a slightly larger than average crop.
They’ve had to rely more on their irrigation systems this summer, turning them on when temperatures rise above 90 degrees, he said.
“It takes more work on our part as farmers to make sure the crop has enough moisture,” he said.
The season has started slow because of the cool spring weather, but most marshes are expecting harvest at their usual time, Hansen said.
Therese Bergholz, owner of Branches Winery in Vernon County, said dry weather this summer has led to an unprecedented bumper crop at her vineyard. She said some grape varieties were ready several weeks in advance, resulting in what she called a “trophy dash” harvest within a few weeks.
“Grapes like to be pressed, unlike people, and our vineyard is very well established,” she said. “The roots are very deep, and they will not be as susceptible to drought conditions as the seeds planted this year.”
But Bergholz said the new or replacement vines they planted this spring were not resilient. Compensating for the lack of rainfall by watering all the plants by hand was labor intensive, she said.
“To be honest, I’m sure quite a few of them didn’t make it because we couldn’t take care of them all,” she said.
Bergholz said this is the third good year in a row for many producers, whom she refers to as “wine growers,” and some producers were not able to sell all of their crops this year due to the glut. She said Wisconsin’s wine industry needs to expand further to keep up with producers’ capabilities, especially as other grape-growing regions like California suffer the effects of climate change.
Some Wisconsin grape growers report that they are also having to change the way they operate to keep up with climate changes caused by climate change.
At Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, a late April spring frost freezes the buds on the majority of the vines. Owner Philippe Cocard said some vines were able to recover by putting out a secondary bud, but the vineyard lost about 70 percent of its red grapes.
Coquard said they started drip irrigation in May for vines that were still fruiting, and that the dry weather actually kept pests and diseases away.
He added: “Quality makes up for the lack of quantity.” “The quality was beautiful. The sugar content was higher than other years. The density, colour, flavour, and acidity or sourness were beautiful.”
These qualities will show up in the wine they can make from this year’s grapes, he said.
Overall, Coquard said the growing season seems to creep earlier each year, bringing more risks with spring frosts and earlier harvest times for his vineyard. He said this year’s healthy crops show that plants are often adaptable to change, and that farmers like him are learning that, too.
(tags for translation) Wisconsin Public Radio