LE MARS, Iowa (AP) — Iowa's apple growers are nervously watching their crop this season, fearing what the lingering drought could do to the business.
Orchard owners around the state are monitoring their trees for any sign they'll have a repeat of last season, the Sioux City Journal (http://bit.ly/YxCeXD ) reported Friday. Last season, unusually warm weather and a late frost killed most fruit buds.
Apple growers in Iowa felt the loss. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the state's production plummeted 94 percent last year, compared with 2011. The Iowa State research orchard in 2012 barely produced 10 bushels, about 420 pounds. The facility usually produces 40,000 pounds, or 20 tons, a year.
Norman Koch, owner of Koch Orchards in Le Mars, said he lost his entire crop by April 14. He's been tending to his trees to prepare for this current season, including pruning so the trees don't overproduce to make up for last year.
"We are going to need a couple of good snowfalls and rain," he said. "We have a deep cross section of dry soil here."
All of Iowa is in drought and the northwest quarter is still in extreme drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. Iowa State University horticulture professor Paul Domoto said this second year is important for Iowa fruit growers because the apple crop is not covered by insurance.
"Let's hope we make up the moisture we need. It's going to have a lot of influence on this season," he said. "You could see many of these orchards going out of business."
The crippling effects of last year's frost meant Iowa orchards shipped apples from other states to sell, according to Nick Howell, supervisor of horticulture research at ISU.
Neighboring states like Minnesota and Wisconsin also took a hit. The USDA said Wisconsin produced a little over 23 million pounds of apples last year, down 54 percent from 2011.
Howell said recent subfreezing weather in the Midwest should keep trees from blooming too early this year.
Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com