Local orchards deal with aftermath of hot, dry summer

Despite the drought this summer, apples are plentiful for fall festivities.
Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 6:28 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - According to the Illinois Drought Monitor, Winnebago County fell into a moderate drought in early May, with some areas reaching severe drought conditions in June.

“The worst drought year that I can remember is 1988,” said Raoul Bergersen who owns Valley Orchard in Cherry Valley.

He opened Valley Orchard in 1977. He said he experienced a more severe drought in 1988, but by this time that year, the rain returned to save his harvest.

“This year, with the lack of moisture in the foreseeable future, it’s going to be detrimental to the winterization of any perennial crop,” said Bergersen.

He was optimistic in the Spring. Then Summer crept up, and with no signs of rain, he got worried.

“I took a look at the trees and thought, boy, I better start the irrigation,” said Bergersen.

That infusion of water saved his apple orchard, but he says his pumpkins were not as lucky.

“In total desperation, we decided to plant them without any chance of rain,” said Bergersen.

He said he will run his irrigation system until the ground freezes if there is no rain in October. Over at Currans Apple Orchard, owner Pat Curran does not have an irrigation system.

“I think this is the worst I’ve seen it,” said Curran. “It was bad in ‘88, but I think this is worse for this orchard.”

Curran said his pumpkins were a challenge, but his apples are plentiful.

“We’ve got a great crop and it’s rather amazing, probably a miracle,” said Curran.

Curran thinks the lack of rain has a silver lining.

“Just a little bit smaller, not crazy small, but I think when you don’t get all the rain, it intensifies it’s flavor,” said Curran. “It’s almost like grapes.”

Edwards’ Apple Orchard in Rockford has an irrigation system. Manager Kristin Edwards Johnston said it was the saving grace for their harvest this year.

“Apples are the center of our business,” said Johnston. “So, if we didn’t have the apples to make the cider, or the apple cider donuts, it wouldn’t be a good thing.”

She said the pumpkins could fend for themselves through the drought.

“The pumpkin plant is actually really hardy. It sends roots deep down,” said Johnston. “So, even though it’s been a dryer season, they have become big beautiful pumpkins.”

All three orchard owners said despite the dry weather, they were able to grow a good crop for the fall festivities this season.

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