Warm weather a worry for apple growers

Warm weather a worry for apple growers

DAKOTA, Minn. - Apple-picking season isn't until late summer, but the weather right now has a big effect on the harvest, and spring-like temperatures too early in the year can spell trouble.

Nestled in the bluffs, Southwind Orchard in Dakota, Minnesota, has 120 acres of apple trees as far as the eye can see.

"As far as we know, we're the second biggest apple orchard in the state of Minnesota,” general manager Greg Tompkins said.

And although the orchard is closed for the season, there's plenty of work going on behind the scenes.

"This time of year, it's almost all about the pruning,” Tompkins said.

While the workers may appreciate the spring-like weather, Tompkins said it puts apple growers on edge.

In the winter, he said, the trees are essentially asleep, but the recent warm spell woke them up, and jump-started their growth.

"You can see the buds on the trees, and they are fatter than they were six-seven days ago,” Tompkins said.

At this point, Tompkins said the trees won't be able to take very cold temperatures, and any warmer temperatures could mean an earlier blossom.

"Which makes us prone to an early spring frost,” Tompkins said.

That’s something the orchard dealt with last year.

"The same thing happened. We had a very warm March. The trees came out early, blossomed and everything looked fine,” Tompkins said. “Then one night it got down to 24 (degrees) after they blossomed, and we lost a lot of fruit."

But over the years, he has learned to make friends with Mother Nature.

"A lot of times she does what she wants to do, and we just have to live with it,” Tompkins said.

And in the apple business, he's also learned to trust his gut.

"My gut tells me we're going to be OK,” Tompkins said.

However, he said smaller orchards are more vulnerable and may have more trouble with the weather’s effects.

The colder temperatures we have in the forecast right now means a sigh of relief for apple growers such Tompkins. Weather could still be an issue in coming months, but growers will know by about mid-June how this year’s harvest will turn out.

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