Weather at core of year’s rotten apple harvest

Wis. apple production expected to be down 61 percent
Weather at core of year’s rotten apple harvest

At Oakwood Fruit Farm in Richland Center, the apples look like they’re nearly ready to pick.

The harvest is moving two weeks ahead of schedule, and thankfully for Steve Louis, some late summer rain doubled the size of the fruit just in time.

“We’re better off to be dry for apples early and get rain late than the other way around,” the farm’s president said.

Louis added, “A lot of people lost their entire crop.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released numbers for the state, estimating Wisconsin apple production to be down 61 percent from last year.

That totals just 20 million pounds of the fruit.


Louis, a fourth generation farmer, said he has never dealt with anything like this growing season. A quarter of the orchard was lost to a late spring frost. Then hot and dry weather stunted the growth and drained the crop of some of its color.

More than seven inches of rain in the past couple of weeks saved Louis from selling juicing-sized apples for less profit. As he pulled some off of the tree and compared them with the tiny fruit from weeks before, he mentioned that the bigger, redder apples can actually be bagged up and sold to customers.

“You can see what rain can do to your production,” Louis said. “Days in the 70s and sunny and cool nights. That’s what brings the color into the apples.”

Now it’s a question of whether or not those customers will know to come in a couple of weeks early to enjoy the fall fruit.

Inside of the farm’s new retail store, people pick up dozens of apple cider donuts, turnovers, and caramel-covered apples for a sweet snack.

Oakwood’s owner and store operator Judy Alvin said with production down, customers could notice more space on the shelves.

“We lost about 25 percent with the frost, so we probably won’t have as big availability as what we’ve had other years,” Alvin said.

With less water this season, the apples are sweeter and less juicy. Alvin said less cider and fruit shouldn’t have too much impact on making the baked goods the store prides itself on, but getting customers in a couple of weeks early might be more of a challenge.

“I think we need to kind of get in that mode that fall is maybe arriving earlier than what we’re used to,” Alvin said.

Louis says prices of apple products could be on the rise this fall because of the crop being below average. He said especially the cost of juice and cider could increase for wholesalers and consumers alike.

Overall, Louis considers himself lucky that his orchard survived the roller coaster climates of this season.

He said it took a lot of hard work, including thousands of gallons of hand-watering, but he’s glad that his crop is looking promising, while he knows others are a total loss.