Warm spring decimates local apple cropWhen temperatures closed in on 90 degrees in mid-March, orchard owner Paul McIlquham began to worry about what the unusual weather would do to his apple crop.
By: By Chris Vetter, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis., Superior Telegram
When temperatures closed in on 90 degrees in mid-March, orchard owner Paul McIlquham began to worry about what the unusual weather would do to his apple crop.
McIlquham's worst fears were realized when an April freeze destroyed the apple blossoms that were forming too early in spring.
"Mine is about 95 percent loss, if not more," McIlquham said. "I won't be open this year."
McIlquham, owner of McIlquham Apple Grove southwest of Foster in the town of Clear Creek, has 8,000 Honeycrisp apple trees.
"That apple was affected more because it's an earlier variety," he said.
McIlquham took out insurance on his apple production last year, but it's not enough to cover his losses.
The trees don't have apples at all.
"It was blossom time (when the frost hit), so the apple never had a chance to form," he said.
Jerry Clark, crops and soil educator with the Chippewa County UW-Extension office, said apple supplies will be reduced significantly this year across the Chippewa Valley.
"We knew production was going to be down," Clark said. "But we didn't know the extent of the damage until now. It sounds like the early variety crops got decimated, and the late varieties are down. On average, we're down at least 50 or 60 percent."
Another popular apple variety, Paula red, also was hit hard, Clark said.
"You'll be hard-pressed to find that variety in the Chippewa Valley," he said.
At one point in early April, temperatures in the Chippewa Valley dipped to 24 degrees overnight.
"It's pretty hard to protect a tree at that point," Clark said.
It is unclear how many orchards had insurance to protect themselves, he said.
"It's going to be a widespread problem," Clark said. "It wouldn't be surprising if the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) comes out with a seasonal disaster program."
With the supply down significantly, Clark said, consumers should be prepared to pay more for apples this year.
"It's a very thin crop," he said.
For 26 years Jerry Harper has owned Harper's Hillview Farm Orchard in the town of Pleasant Valley, south of Eau Claire, which features 650 trees over 7 acres. For the first time, Harper isn't opening his farm to wagon rides or for people to pick their own apples.
"I'm guessing I have 80 percent loss," Harper said. "Those on the higher ground didn't freeze, and they are turning out OK."
Harper declined to put a dollar figure on the losses at his farm.
Both Harper and McIlquham said they plan to take their small supply to farmers markets in the Chippewa Valley in hopes of selling what they can grow.
Vetter can be reached at 715-723-0303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c)2012 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)
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