Fruit Farmers Growing Optimism for a Better Season

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa - If there's one thing for sure, Eastern Iowa fruit growers know they can't predict Mother Nature.

Last spring, for example, they experienced warm temperatures very early. That caused many apple orchards and vineyards to go into in full bloom prematurely. Then, cold temperatures and a couple of big freezes caused problems on fruit farms.

Workers started setting up fire pits around the crops in hopes of saving them. If you mix in a drought, it was a devastating year for many apple orchards and vineyards.

With each snip of the pruning shears Wilson's Orchard Owner Paul Rasch said his team is increasingly optimistic this year will be much better than last.

He lost about 85 percent of his crop last year. The apple-lover, however, said trees tend to grow and overcompensate when there's a poor crop the year before.

"I think we're going to be in a position this year where we have just the biggest crop since I've been here," Rasch said.

The colder-than-average temperatures are also playing a big part in that positive outlook.

"The colder, the better," Rasch said.

"We like that because it delays spring and the longer we can delay the apples blooming, the better the chance that when they do bloom, there's no more frost in the forecast," Rasch added.

At Fireside Winery in Marengo Wine Maker Zach Bott is also thankful for the cold. After losing a small portion of the grapes to the freezes and the drought, he's ready for a normal wine-making season.

"As long as the temperature stays consistent and we don't have a ton of fluctuations, it's way too early to get worked up about anything," Bott said.

But while conditions look ripe right now, both Rasch and Bott know that could change at any moment.

"It's something you keep your eye on all of the time," Bott said.

Bott warned that everything is good in moderation. If it stays cold too long, it could push back the harvest or even prevent the fruit from having enough growing time to become ripe before fall sets in.
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