The state’s crop of honeycrisp — one of the most popular varieties of apple — was damaged by the polar vortex, Wisconsin apple growers report.
“The polar vortex was particularly harsh on the Honeycrisp trees,” Bill Stone, owner of Brightonwoods Orchard in Kenosha County, said. “It will be less of a crop than usual.”
Sue Hughes, owner of Harvest Time Orchards in Twin Lakes, and Dave Flannery, owner of Apple Holler in Sturtevant, reported similar damage to their Honeycrisp crop. Hughes said about 70 percent of her Applecrisp trees, which make up about a quarter of the trees at the orchard, will not produce a typical yield.
Flannery said this will be in contrast to last season’s heavy yield of Honeycrisp, one of 30 varieties at his orchard. Because Honeycrisp tends to be an “every-other-year” producer, Flannery said it was already expected to be a smaller yield.
“Honeycrisp (yields) will be down,” Flannery said. “It is a weaker growing tree for one and the polar vortex put added stress on the tree.”
Amaya Atucha, fruit crop production specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said growers statewide have reported a similar plight during conference calls and through emails.
“What I have been hearing from apple growers, in particular, is that there are way fewer flowers,” Atucha said.
While honey crisp is a Minnesota variety, it is less cold hearty than some of the other varieties, she said.
“We definitely do see quite a bit of damage as a result of the Polar Vortex,” Atucha said. “It has been a very tough winter and not a very helpful spring.”
Atucha said, statewide, there have been about half the “growing-degree days” so far this year than there were last year by this time.
“Everything seems to be very delayed,” she said, adding growers in places like Door County are reporting “very little activity” so far.
Add to this that bees don’t like to fly unless it is above 50 degrees, which means there has been very little pollination so far.
“(Monday) morning I saw no bees in the trees,” Flannery said. “There were some bees flying in the afternoon, but not a lot.”
Flannery said the cold weather has “strung out” the bloom period. In a typical year, the bloom period lasts about seven-to-ten days, he said. This year, he said it could last three weeks.
Fortunately, Stone said, only 7- to 10-percent of the bloom needs to be pollinated to get a full crop.
While not a big crop statewide, peaches have been all but wiped out, the growers report.
Stone said he lost all 20 of his peach trees, and Flannery may lose all 3,500 of his.
Flannery said, when it is 10 degrees below zero, 10 percent of the peach crop is lost. For each degree below that, another 10 percent is lost. He recorded a low of 26 degrees below zero in January.
“That is the kiss of death for peaches,” Flannery said. “I don’t see any peach blooms out there. That is only the second time in 10 years that has happened to us.”
Hughes, one of few who grows tart cherries, said the cherry trees look good, but are behind schedule. While tart cherries can be ready at the pick-your-own farm by late June, Hughes is estimating they won’t be ready this year until the second week of July.
“This spring has made everything a little slower,” Hughes said.