MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin apple growers had an unusually heavy harvest last year, which they feared might lead to lower output this year. But the trees seem to have caught up enough that this year's crop should be good or even above average.
The state produced 41.7 million pounds of apples last year. That was an 18 percent increase from the 2012 growing season, which had been hampered when an early thaw was followed by frost and drought, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The large harvest in 2013 left trees depleted, and the extreme winter further taxed the orchards, said Anna Maenner, the executive director of the 175-member Wisconsin Apple Growers Association. However, this season is shaping up to be a good one, she added.
"Even though the trees appeared to be a bit behind, they're catching up," Maenner said. "Things are looking really good. We were a little apprehensive earlier in the season, but it's looking good right now."
Apple harvests are just beginning across the state. Many orchards opened Saturday for customers to pick their own, the Wisconsin State Journal reported (http://bit.ly/W0fupv ).
Apple grower Steve Louis expects to harvest about 70,000 bushels of apples off 170 acres near Richland Center, about an average output. He says he's less concerned about the harvest than about finding people willing to pick apples.
Workers are paid by the bushel and make an average of $12 to $14 per hour, and the faster workers can make as much as $25 per hour. But the labor force just isn't around, including a lack of migrant workers, he said.
"Last year, we had to beg and beg and beg and we still couldn't get local people," Louis said. "It's just different work than people aren't used to doing."
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