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Agriculture
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Sweet harvest: Early fall apples starting to peak at area orchards

ELKHORN

Between late frosts this spring and heavy rains and storms the last few weeks, it’s been a mixed bag for area apple growers.

Some growers who have seen a dent in their apple crops blame poor weather conditions early in the growing season. Others say they have early fall apples that are so thick and heavy on their trees that recent stormy weather has felled some fruit and forced picking.

Whether their crops are bountiful or a little more spare, apple growers across Rock and Walworth counties say the time is ripe for apples, with early fall varieties such as McIntosh, Holiday, Cortland and Zestar now eminently crisp and pickable.

Judy Jacobson, who owns Apple Barn Orchard and Winery in Elkhorn, reports a robust apple crop, with varieties such as McIntosh weighing down the branches so much that some are snapping off.

“It just happens,” she said.

Jacobson said heavy rains the last few weeks have caused some early varieties to actually split open—mature apples can hold only so much water—and winds from recent storms have blown some apples to the ground.

It might not be a major problem because Apple Barn has had a bumper crop so far. But the trees are so full that Jacobsen has had three pickers going into overdrive to get the apples before Mother Nature downs more of them.

One picker is filling multiple 18-bushel hoppers with apples—to the tune of about 1,180 bushels a day.

That’s a lot of apples.

“Yes, it is,” Jacobson said.

Right now, Cortland apples—a darker-red variety that’s a cousin of the McIntosh—are ripe. They’re a sweet apple good for cooking and eating, and this weekend will be their peak, Jacobson said.

For those who like tart fruit, Jacobsen said growers should have Holiday apples, a firm, red-yellow variety that adds tang to an apple pie or when dipped in caramel.

Drew Ten Eyck, owner-operator of Ten Eyck Orchard in Brodhead, said his apple crop should be “pretty good,” although some early fall varieties were hampered by a late frost and windstorm in April.

Ten Eyck said damaged blossoms often lead to damaged or stunted apples, although affected varieties might not show signs of distress until a few weeks before harvest.

“They can just stop growing at a certain point, or they can get some scabbing,” he said.

He said two early fall varieties—Arlets, a sweet dessert apple, and Jonamacs, a bright-red, honey-flavored hybrid—were affected by the early frost.

“Some of those we’ll sell as cooking apples or crush up for cider,” Ten Eyck said.

Later fall varieties such as Melrose, McCowan, Crimson Crisp and Evercrisp seem to have fared better because they bloomed after the April frost, he said.

The frost wasn’t as hard on Ten Eyck Orchard as a hailstorm in August 2017 that wreaked havoc on that year’s crop.

“It was BB-sized hail that came with 60-mph straight-line winds. Hail went through the leaves and shot into apples,” Ten Eyck said. “I’d say we’re in a lot better shape this year than last year.”

Lori Jenson, owner of Apple Hut in the town of Beloit, said some apple growers in northern Rock County dealt with single-day rainfalls of 5½ inches recently, while areas to the south and east of the town endured strong winds from storms. But those storms seemed to veer north and south of Apple Hut just as the McIntosh, Cortland and Gala apples were ripening.

“We had a little frost early on, but we had no damage from storms at all this year,” Jenson said. “We’re really fortunate. I’m thinking our crop this year is a normal crop, not too overbearing, not too few to worry whether you’re going to start running out of everything. It’s kind of a sweet spot.”

How does an orchard celebrate that?

“By asking you to come and get some of those apple doughnuts,” Jenson said. “They’re the specialty.”


Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 12, 2018

Frederick Michael Cerkoney

Gary L. Davis

Karenlyn Elliott

Richard M. Fugate

Kelly L. Lutzow

Dorothy J. Martin

Pamela R. Parker

Sherry Lee Schlueter

Lois M. Smith

Linda Townsend


Angela Major 

Porsche Kettelhut hugs her horse, Tiki, outside her home in the town of Janesville.


Government
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Developer eyes 250 apartment units after city changes incentives

JANESVILLE

A small, last-minute change to the city’s revised tax increment financing policy will likely give Janesville more flexibility to recruit multifamily housing developments.

One real estate developer is optimistic his multifamily housing development plans—which could bring 250 units to a bustling transportation corridor—will now qualify for city incentives after the council approved a modified policy Monday night.

The new policy allows the city to provide TIF incentives to multifamily housing proposals outside of downtown. The policy will expire in five years unless a future council extends it.

Hovde Properties President Mike Slavish said his company is considering a market-rate apartment complex near the southwest corner of Racine Street and Interstate 90/39. The project would sit on an 11.5-acre site nestled between Oak Park Place and Ryan Incorporated Central.

The property is in the town of La Prairie and would need to be annexed into the city for access to city water, sewer and other utility connections, he said.

The site would not have been eligible for financial incentives under the policy’s original draft. That’s because the draft included a requirement that any property receiving financial assistance would have needed to be within city limits for at least 20 years.

The council removed that rule before approving the policy change Monday.

Slavish’s proposal does not have a name and has not been officially proposed to the city. He hopes to submit an application within the next 30 days, he said.

The 20-year requirement also would have excluded a site near Highway 26 and Wright Road. That property has been within city limits for 16 or 17 years, Economic Development Director Gale Price said.

The property owner there has asked the city to modify the land use agreement. If that change is approved, the developer could then submit a development proposal. Preliminary plans call for a combination of multifamily and single-family housing and commercial development.

Price said the original rationale for the 20-year requirement was to prioritize sites in which the city already had invested. Such places would have utility connections and likely be surrounded by developed sites.

But having no such requirement gives the city more wiggle room.

Slavish said Hovde could “absolutely not” build the project off Racine Street without city assistance. Janesville’s rents aren’t high enough to cover a developer’s material and labor expenses, he said.

The company manages many properties in Dane County, where rents are higher and municipalities routinely provide incentives. That creates some financial security for developers that Janesville’s market currently does not provide.

Hovde does have experience in Janesville. The company manages the Woodsview Apartments—just across the street from where it wants to build its second property.

Slavish commended the council for dropping the 20-year requirement. Price said the new policy already was paying dividends less than a day after it was approved.

“I fielded several phone calls today (Tuesday) over potential projects. I think it’s going to help promote multifamily development,” Price said.

“It’s going to close the gap, and in the end our ultimate hope is this is only a short-term situation where rents eventually catch up with the cost of construction.”


BRENDA ECKHARDT 

Mike Slavish


Hurricane could flood many waste sites, creating toxic brew

The heavy rain expected from Hurricane Florence could flood hog manure pits, coal ash dumps and other industrial sites in North Carolina, creating a noxious witch’s brew of waste that might wash into homes and threaten drinking water supplies.

Computer models predict more than 3 feet of rain in the eastern part of the state, a fertile low-lying plain veined by brackish rivers with a propensity for escaping their banks. Longtime locals don’t have to strain their imaginations to foresee what rain like that can do. It’s happened before.

In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd came ashore near Cape Fear as a Category 2 storm that dumped about 2 feet of water on a region already soaked days earlier by Hurricane Dennis. The result was the worst natural disaster in state history, a flood that killed dozens of people and left whole towns underwater, their residents stranded on rooftops.

The bloated carcasses of hundreds of thousands of hogs, chickens and other drowned livestock bobbed in a nose-stinging soup of fecal matter, pesticides, fertilizer and gasoline so toxic that fish flopped helplessly on the surface to escape it. Rescue workers smeared Vick’s Vapo-Rub under their noses to try to numb their senses against the stench.

Florence is forecast to make landfall in the same region as a much stronger storm.

“This one is pretty scary,” said Jamie Kruse, director of the Center for Natural Hazards Research at East Carolina University. “The environmental impacts will be from concentrated animal feeding operations and coal ash pits. Until the system gets flushed out, there’s going to be a lot of junk in the water.”

North Carolina has roughly 2,100 industrial-scale pork farms containing more than 9 million hogs—typically housed in long metal sheds with grated floors designed to allow the animals’ urine and feces to fall through and flow into nearby open-air pits containing millions of gallons of untreated sewage.

During Floyd, dozens of these lagoons either breached or were overtopped by floodwaters, spilling the contents. State taxpayers ended up buying out and closing 43 farms located in floodplains.

To prepare for Florence, the North Carolina Pork Council said its members have pumped down lagoon levels to absorb at least 2 feet of rain. Low-lying farms have been moving their hogs to higher ground.

“Our farmers and others in the pork industry are working together to take precautions that will protect our farms, our animals and our environment,” said Brandon Warren, the pork council’s president and a hog farmer.

The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday that it would be monitoring nine toxic waste cleanup sites near the Carolinas’ coast for potential flooding. More than a dozen such Superfund sites in and around Houston flooded last year in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, with spills of potentially hazardous materials reported at two.

Also of concern are more than two dozen massive coal ash pits operated by Duke Energy, the state’s primary electricity provider. The gray ash that remains after coal is burned contains potentially harmful amounts of mercury, arsenic and lead.

Since power plants need vast amounts of water to generate steam, their unlined waste pits are located along lakes and rivers. Some of the pits were inundated during past storms, including during Floyd and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

After a 2014 spill at a Duke plant coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic gray sludge, state regulators forced the Charlotte-based company to begin phasing out its coal ash pits by 2029. Because that work was already underway, wastewater levels inside the ash ponds have been falling, Duke Energy spokesman Bill Norton said Tuesday.

“We’re more prepared than ever,” said Norton, adding that crews will be monitoring water levels at the pits throughout the storm.

The company is also preparing for potential shutdown of nuclear reactors at least two hours before the arrival of hurricane-force winds. Duke operates 11 reactors at six sites in the Carolinas, including the Brunswick Nuclear Plant located south of Wilmington near the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

The Brunswick plant’s two reactors are of the same design as those in Fukushima, Japan, that exploded and leaked radiation following a 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Following that disaster, federal regulators required all U.S. nuclear plants to perform upgrades to better withstand earthquakes and flooding.

Duke Energy did not respond to requests for information about specific changes made at Brunswick other than to say emergency generators and pumps will remove stormwater at the plant if it floods. The company issued assurances this week that it is ready for Florence, which is predicted to pack winds of up to 140 miles per hour and a 13-foot storm surge.

“They were safe then. They are even safer now,” said Kathryn Green, a Duke spokeswoman, referring to the post-Fukushima improvements. “We have backups for backups for backups.”