Fall harvest keeps La Crosse area apple growers busy

Rylee Dawson stocks the apple bins on the sales floor at Bauer’s Market and Garden Center in La Crescent, Minn.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

The apple harvest is in full swing for local growers in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

This week has been busy for Bruce Bauer, owner of Bauer’s Market and Garden Center as apple varieties come into the La Crescent store and leave almost as fast in the hands of customers. Some growers in the region experienced some hail damage from summer storms or the recent September heat wave, but for the most part, the weather cooperated this year to provide a large and good-quality harvest.

Honeycrisp, which has become incredibly popular in the Midwest, has seen its usual high demand, Bauer said. But there are a number of other varieties that are at their peak right now, including the tart Haralson and the relatively new Sonya, Ambrosia or Pazazz.

“Everything is going nice,” he said. “We are right on target for fruit maturation and have about eight to 10 varieties left to pick.”

Customers are also getting more adventurous. In years past, people would usually come in once and stock up on 20 to 40 pounds of their favorite variety. Now customers come in more frequently and are more likely to grab smaller bags and try new or different types of apple.

Including some summer varieties, apple season runs from July until August, Bauer said, with more than 40 local varieties being sold. Demand has been good this year, and Bauer estimated business will be above average, helped by some lovely fall weather on Wednesday.

“Mother Nature has been more than cooperative,” he said. “People are seeing a beautiful harvest.”

According to the USDA, the apple crop in both states was worth more than $35 million last year, with Minnesota producing 16.8 million pounds of fresh market apples and Wisconsin nearly double that at 31.8 million pounds. This year should be better than last, when frost damaged the crop during apple blossom formation in the spring.

Van Lin Orchards owner Richard Van Lin said this year was ahead of schedule by nearly a week for the more than 45 acres he farms near La Crescent. The weather cooperated well during the ripening portion of the growing season, he said, and flavor and color have been better than normal.

“The crop looks good,” he said. “The color is nice, and the flavor is great.”

Southwind Orchards general manager Greg Tompkins said his crop was also doing well. The orchard raises nearly 30 varieties of apples on more than 120 acres near Dakota, Minn., with about half of the crop going to the popular Honeycrisp variety.

His orchards dealt with some hail damage in spots, but he still expects to have a better than average crop this year and to harvest more than 30,000 bushels of fresh produce. Demand has also been high at the orchard’s market, which sells both fresh and processed apple products.

In Wisconsin, Ferguson’s Orchards co-owner Tom Ferguson said his family’s more than 110,000 apple trees in Galesville, Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls have weathered this year’s hiccups. The large storms that brought flooding and hail this summer missed the majority of his acres, he said, and the recent heat wave pushed things along with the harvest as it sped up how fast the fruit matured.

Both the Eau Claire and Galesville farms have markets offering apple products, along with pick-your-own options for apples and pumpkins as well as other attractions. There have been a few rainy weekends that have slowed business a little, he said, and hopes for some nice, dry fall weather for the rest of October.

“We hope people come out,” he said. “We’ve got a good amount of apples and the quality is outstanding this year.”


Nathan Hansen has been the Education Reporter for the Tribune since 2014. Prior to that, he covered education, agriculture and business topics for the Winona Daily News. He is always on the lookout for news tips and can be contacted at 608-791-8234.

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