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2018 Was The 'Worst Season Ever' Due To Extreme Weather, Says Longtime Wisconsin Farmer


On a below zero day following a snowstorm, it’s hard to imagine the farm fields around Wisconsin at harvest time. But that’s what farmers are always thinking about, or at least about getting the next season's crops in.

It’s been a while since we’ve chatted with contributor Dave Kozlowski about his work at Pinehold Gardens.  Since things are a little slow on the farm — the ground is frozen and covered in snow — he has time to chat about what might have been his most challenging year to date.

"Everybody I talked to, a number of farmers across the state, said it was the worst year ever and I would totally concur," says Kozlowski. "In 25 years, that was our worst season ever and it had everything to do with the weather — the rather extreme weather."

"In 25 years, that was our worst season ever and it had everything to do with the weather — the rather extreme weather."

By the end of April 2018, Pinehold Gardens was fully anticipating an early season. But in mid-May there were two weeks of rain, causing the ground to saturate and causing delays for working in the field, according to Kozlowski.

While the weather in May was warm, you then had "wet ground, growing weeds, you can't cultivate, can't take a tractor out there, crops get lost in the weeds," he explains.

"We anticipated lower yeilds and of course that was the case, but we still anticipated yields," adds Kozlowski. "It was August that ultimately killed things."

Wisconsin typically experiences 30-32 inches of rain a year on average, but the prolonged periods of rain last year proved detrimental to crops across the state. Pinehold Gardens' entire carrot crop was lost, cabbages and fall broccolis were heavily damaged and thousands of dollars in produce was lost, according to the garden's calculations.

"It was August that ultimately killed things."

"I think a lot of folks probably even noticed it at the farm markets and stuff this summer — there was less produce, less variety. It was a really tough year. And not just for Pinehold or not just for Southeastern Wisconsin, but pretty much anybody in the southern part of the state," says Kozlowski.

So, with the weather becoming even more extreme how can farmers be better prepared?

"The only thing you really can do is put up more greenhouses where you can control the environment better and work up the early ground first so that it will dry," notes Kozlowski. However, building greenhouses can add $20-30,000 of debt, and working the early ground can compromise soil nutrients, says Kozlowski.

He notes it would take a couple of good seasons in a row to make up for what Pinehold Gardens lost.

However, even though morale is low in the farming community, Kozlowski says it has never been about the money for him in this business. "I feel I have this obligation to feed people, and if I have the opportunity to grow things I should do that," he says.

While Kozlowski admits he doesn't know exactly how he stays resilient, "spring comes around and you just want to do it again," he laughs.

"Anybody who's in this business, you are both the world's worst pessimist and the world's greatest optimist," says Kozlowski. "You can't go into this without hoping that things are going to be better, but you don't go into this without planning for the worst.

David (Dave) Kozlowski, along with his wife Sandy Raduenz, owns and operates Pinehold Gardens, an organic produce farm in Oak Creek, Wis. The pair left their full-time office careers in their 40’s to pursue farming. They have offered a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program since 1994 and became owners of Pinehold in 2004. The farm also serves the community through restaurants and farm markets.
Audrey Nowakowski is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.