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Wisconsin's apple crop promising after polar vortex devastates peaches

Posted at 7:24 AM, Aug 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-21 08:24:09-04

STURTEVANT — Farmers across Wisconsin have to deal with weather-related changes every year. For the latest example of that, look no further than Apple Holler in Sturtevant.

Owner Dave Flannery said he and his workers maintain roughly 20,000 apple, pear and peach trees.

The peaches make up just a sliver of his total crop: about 2,500 trees.

But this year, Flannery's peach trees produced no fruits.

He lost the entire peach crop during the bitterly-cold, polar vortex in January.

"We got, I think, -23 degrees (Fahrenheit) and then -26 (Fahrenheit) degrees on two consecutive days," Flannery said. "The rule of thumb with peaches is that at -10 degrees (Fahrenheit) you lose 10% of your crop, and each degree below that you lose another 10%."

Flannery said Wisconsin's bitter winters are not favorable to peaches, even during milder years.

"Peaches in Wisconsin is not common. Most people don't do it, because of the cold weather," he said.

But he added that's why the vast majority of his trees, which support the bulk of his business, produce apples.

"Apples are a lot heartier," Flannery said.

While the polar vortex did take out about 10% of this year's apple crop at Apple Holler, Flannery said that number is relatively insignificant.

For reference, the last time Flannery's apple crop took a catastrophic hit was in May, 2012, when his apple trees were in full bloom and temperatures dipped into the 20's.

That cost Apple Holler about 85% of that year's crop.

In some ways, this year's cold winter and lack of a spring helped to protect much of the apple crop, Flannery said.

A lack of warm weather during the spring delayed the blooming of the blossoms on his apple trees.

So when they finally did bloom, later than normal, it was well past the time of year when he was worried about a cold snap taking temperatures back down below freezing.

"That pushed us into safer weather territory," Flannery said.

The apple picking began early this month at Apple Holler. Flannery said the orchard boasts 30 varieties of apples, some of which don't mature enough for picking until early November.