Managing an apple orchard — whether table apples or cider apples — isn’t the romantic endeavor some might imagine. There’s a lot to do: selecting, planting, growing, pruning, and irrigating trees; combating insect pests while supporting pollinators; and warding off assorted tree-killing and apple-destroying plant diseases. There are also weeds, nuisance animals, and soil health to contend with.
Thankfully, Wisconsin’s commercial apple growers have the UW Fruit Team to turn to for help and guidance. The team consists of three Extension experts on faculty at CALS: horticulturalist Amaya Atucha, entomologist Christelle Guédot, and plant pathologist Patricia McManus.
They can be found giving presentations and answering questions at field days, conferences, workshops, and other events around the state, including the CIAS-run Midwest School for Beginning Apple Growers. During the growing season, they publish Wisconsin Fruit News, a twice-monthly e-newsletter with time-sensitive information, updates, and tips for state fruit growers.
“Patty McManus has been such a go-to person for us, with all of the disease issues we face [due to being an organic orchard],” says Deirdre Birmingham of The Cider Farm. “She has always been highly responsive, and we also have great relationships with Amaya and Christelle.”
UW Fruit Team members currently have a couple of apple-focused projects in the works. One involves preparing for the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB). The invasive insect has made its way into Wisconsin from nearby states and is poised to become a major agricultural pest. Guédot’s lab has been monitoring the stink bug’s spread and is looking for natural enemies in the area that can help keep the new pest in check.
“We are assessing if there are any parasitic wasps or other parasitoids of BMSB in Wisconsin that could work as biocontrol agents,” explains Guédot.
Atucha is involved in an effort to connect Wisconsin orchardists with the national Network for Environment and Weather Applications (NEWA), a system of weather stations that comes with a suite of powerful, data-based decision-making tools for growers. Twenty NEWA weather stations were installed around the state last year, with financial support from a Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Specialty Crop Block Grant to the Wisconsin Apple Growers Association (WAGA). This season, Atucha, who is the campus liaison to WAGA and the state’s NEWA coordinator, helped lead education and training efforts.
“NEWA allows growers to plug into models and apps that have been developed over the years by multiple universities,” Atucha says. “It’s a big step up in terms of technology and is going to have a huge impact on the apple industry in Wisconsin.”