The specialty of the extension educator is Specialty Crops | State and Region
Grain growers with questions about soil health and herbicide applications have a plethora of sources for answers. Illinois fruit and vegetable growers are more limited.
One person they often go to is Elizabeth Wahle. Wahle is in her 20th year as a horticulture educator at the University of Illinois Extension. Based in Edwardsville, she answers questions about all aspects of commercial orchard and vegetable operations as well as homeowner maintained backyard plots.
Illinois has a relatively small footprint in the produce space, and it has changed. In the past, there were more commercial apple and peach farms. There are still some large orchards, but the wholesale component has declined.
“Even people who used to be strictly wholesale now have retail in their marketing feed,” Wahle said.
It’s a big change. By the mid-20th century, large orchards in southern Illinois were growing thousands of bushels of apples and peaches and shipping them by rail to Chicago and other markets. Among other things, competition from Michigan, Washington State, and overseas from Japan and other fruit-growing nations has altered the industry.
On the other hand, vineyards have increased as the state has followed the national trend of local wineries.
“Certainly over the past 20 years grapes have increased in number,” she said. “It had already started to grow and continued to grow during my tenure.”
Besides orchards and wineries, Illinois is the top producer of pumpkins and horseradish. Wahle also answers questions about minor crops such as strawberries, blueberries, green beans, and even mushrooms.