VERONA, Wis. - Last year's drought especially hurt Wisconsin apple growers. The National Agriculture Statistics Service said it was the worst harvest in six decades.
Production took a hit when trees blossomed early in the warm spring and then were hit by a late frost.
But this year, the future of local orchards is bright. Picking has already started and one Verona grower explains why the crop is making a comeback.
"There's one of my young Honeycrisp trees and it's just loaded, but probably had nothing on it last year," said Jim Schroeder, who owns Schroeder's Orchard. The drought nearly destroyed the four acres of trees he started harvesting as a hobby more than 30 years ago.
"We had some loss, but never in the 30 years had anything like that," said Schroeder.
His crop had dwindled to just 10 percent, but this year's weather has been ideal and his orchard is benefitting.
"The weather we've had, the cool nights and things, the color is ahead of schedule whether the apple is or not," Schroeder said.
His variety Paula Red went on sale at local farmer's markets for the first time Saturday. Zestar and Dutchess varieties are also ready for picking. The fan favorite, Honeycrisp, isn't usually ready until November, but Schroeder said he will be able to start picking them in about a week.
"It has a good flavor, it has a certain amount of sweetness, but I think the thing people like most is the crispness," Schroeder said.
Some of his trees are so full of apples, the branches are breaking. He estimates each tree will yield six bushels of apples, or around 240 pounds.21573130
Orchards are usually open for picking from mid-August through October. Schroeder's Orchard isn't open to the public. He sticks to selling his crop at the market, but is considering making cider with the extra apples.
"For me, it's a pleasure to see, especially after last year," said Schroder, who is only looking forward to the bright future. "It's going to be a really good year and I suspect that's going to be pretty much statewide."
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