MOUNT HOREB, Wis. — The unpredictable weather has caused a host of problems for many, but it could spell catastrophe for Wisconsin’s apple orchards.

What You Need To Know

  • In winter, apple trees usually go dormant

  • With warmer temperatures earlier in the season, some apple trees have started to bloom early

  • If trees bloom too early, they can be vulnerable to damage

Laura Tisch and her family’s orchard, Munchkey Apples in Mount Horeb, is relatively new, planted in 2011. They’re still not strangers to rough weather.

“We had an event where temperatures got down to 31 degrees,” she said. “Our fruitlets were so small, but it frostbit the fruit and a lot of our fruit had rough scars on them.”

This year has been especially concerning because of the unusual winter temperatures. In winter, apple trees usually go dormant. With the warmer temperatures earlier in the season, some of Tisch’s trees started to bloom early.

If trees bloom too early, they can be more vulnerable to damage.

“The further along the trees are in their development earlier in the season, the more of a chance of frost and the more of a chance that frost, depending on the temperature, can kill a lot of your fruit buds,” Tisch said.

She said about 80% of her crop goes to grocery stores and schools. If any of it is damaged by weather, she said they can’t sell it to their wholesale customers.

“They need to look good because consumers don’t understand what some of that damage might be,” Tisch said.

Luckily, there are ways the farm can mitigate this. She said they recently installed a frost fan that pulls warm air from higher in the sky and circulates it through the trees. They can also turn around any weather-damaged crops and make them into applesauce, pies and cider donuts.

However, Tisch said that’s less cost-effective.

“You get more for the fresh apples than you do with all the costs and the inputs that come into making the applesauce and the other products,” she said.

In the end, it’s a wait-and-see game for the family. For now, she’s waiting to see if her trees develop more, and if the weather takes a turn for the worse.

“I know everybody likes this nice mild weather, but truthfully, I’d like it if it would stay under 50 degrees,” Tisch said.