Record spring temperatures destroy apple crop and jobs

For my family, farming is much more than a job. The Barthel family has been growing fruit here in Wisconsin since my great-grandfather immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1839. I took over in 1978. Today I tend 30 acres of orchard, 15 acres of strawberries and 40 acres of various fruit and field crops.
This was a tough year for one of our most popular crops – our apples. Thanks to unseasonably warm weather, with temperatures 23- 25 degrees above average, our apple trees budded early in March this year. Then the April frosts came causing us to lose 90% of our apple crop.
It was hard to walk through the orchard and see bare trees. Usually all you see are branches heavy with red and green fruit.
I’m not the only one. This year has been hard on apple farmers all over Wisconsin. Statewide, apple production dropped by about 61%. And it was even worse in Michigan.
This was one of the smallest apple crops we’ve ever had, and it’s the first year we had to cancel the pick-your-own apple program since we began it in the 1950s. We didn’t even have any wholesale sales. This year, I’m a “gentleman farmer.”
What’s really heartbreaking is that we’ve had to dramatically cut back our seasonal jobs. I had people calling me saying that they needed to buy clothes for their kids to go back to school, and I had to tell them that there was no work.
We’ll get by. We make it a point to bank off the good years. But I feel for those people who depend on seasonal work to make ends meet.
I know Global Warming is a factor. On a farm, we depend on the weather following a pattern. This warming brings erratic conditions. It’s hard to predict what’s coming, but I hope next year is better for Wisconsin’s apple farmers.


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