Local orchards face the aftermath of a hot, dry summer

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) – According to the Illinois Drought Monitor, Winnebago County fell into moderate drought in early May, with some areas reaching severe drought conditions in June.

“The worst drought year I can remember was 1988,” said Raoul Bergersen, owner of Valley Orchard in Cherry Valley.

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

“This year, with the lack of humidity for the foreseeable future, this is going to be detrimental to the overwintering of any perennial crop,” Bergersen said.

He was optimistic in the spring. Then Summer walked over, and with no sign of rain, he worried.

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

This infusion of water saved his apple orchard, but he says his pumpkins weren’t so lucky.

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

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

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

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

“We have a great harvest and it’s pretty amazing, probably a miracle,” Curran said.

Curran thinks the lack of rain is a silver lining.

“Just a little smaller, not crazy small, but I think when you don’t get all the rain it intensifies its flavor,” Curran said. “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 heart of our business,” said Johnston. “So if we didn’t have the apples to make the cider, or the apple cider donuts, that wouldn’t be a good thing.”

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

“The pumpkin plant is actually very hardy. It sends roots deep, ”said Johnston. “So even though the season was drier, they turned out to be big, beautiful pumpkins. “

The three orchard owners said that despite the dry weather, they were able to produce a good harvest for the fall festivities this season.

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