Local Apple Update

Adam Calder, Wheatsfield Produce Manager

Last year, we were able to procure only a smattering of local apples, and then they were done for the season. The limited apple availability was a direct result of the damage the derecho caused when it roared across Iowa last summer, leaving behind it a wake of devastation and loss.

One of our local apple farmers, Steve Carlson from Hall’s Orchard in Madrid, was kind enough to share his story with me and to update me on the post-derecho status of the orchard.

“…The derecho was devastating for us,” Carlson said. “In terms of wiping out the entire 2020 crop. There were a few apples left hanging on the tree, but we had hail along with the insane wind and so the hail damaged the remaining fruit. We typically start harvest during the 3rd or 4th week of August, so this was just before we were ready to start picking.”

The damage to the orchard was severe, and the repercussions are still being felt by the trees that survived.

“We had around 350 total trees, many of which are around 30 years old on a semi-dwarf rootstock” Carlson said. “They’re well-established, gnarly apple trees. The derecho took out 30 of the apple trees by snapping the trunk right at the base, or totally uprooting the tree. There were 20 more trees that were left leaning all the way to the ground, resting on the eastern branches. If the root damage wasn’t that extensive, we pulled those trees back upright with the tractor and staked them to a couple of T-posts. Most of those seemed as if they’d re-root and survive, but after the winter and the weight of an apple crop on them this year, many are leaning back closer to the ground again. We’ll continue to try and stake them up, but I imagine the lifespan of these trees was cut way short.”

As is the case with many farmers who do not grow commodity row crops, insurance for the loss isn’t an option.

“Unfortunately we are at a small enough scale there doesn’t seem to be an insurance product out there that is a good fit for us, so we didn’t have insurance to help cover the total crop loss of 2020, or the downed trees. There’s a Non-insured Disaster Relief product offered by the Farm Service Agency, but we were just under the threshold of the number of trees lost to get that assistance. Of course, the damage from the derecho probably won’t be totally realized for several years.”

Despite all of these setbacks, the trees have pulled through and the yield estimates look good for this fall.

“Luckily we have right around 20 varieties and we still have some trees from each variety” Carlson said. “And after worrying about how the trees would yield this year following such a stressful event, they have exceeded my expectations with their production. And in addition to that, this has been a fairly mild year for the pest and disease pressure.”

“Right now from our larger plantings we’re harvesting plenty of Jonathan, Jonagold, and September Wonder Fuji.” Carlson said. “Very soon we’ll begin to harvest Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, and Empire. In smaller quantities we’re harvesting Gala, with Cortland and Liberty to come very soon. Later in the season it looks as if we’ll have large crops of Rome, Granny Smith, and Chieftain, which was developed at Iowa State University in 1917 as a cross between Jonathan and Red Delicious. All of these apple varieties have a unique quality that deserves appreciation, and it’s a passion of mine to help educate consumers how and why to value the diversity of our apple heritage. A Red Delicious stored for 6 months and shipped half-way across the country is nothing to get excited about, but a Red Delicious picked at peak ripeness in our Iowa growing conditions is a whole different story.”

Wheatsfield Cooperative appreciates Steve’s passion for apples, and his dedication to his orchard. Hall’s Orchard apples are in stock at the co-op, so stop in soon and give yourself an autumn treat!

Showing 90% of apples blown off the trees.

Apple tree snapped off at its base.

Uprooted tree falling over again after staking.