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Iowa's Chestnut Harvest Devastated After More Than A Year Of Pesky Weather

courtesy of Red Fern Farm
Chestnut trees at Red Fern Farm in May lacked the usual size and quantity of leaves.

It may be harvest season, but Iowa’s chestnut trees don’t have much to offer after spending 10 consecutive months in soil with too much moisture.

Rains began saturating soils in September 2018, an abrupt hard freeze in November locked in the moisture, spring brought repeated freeze-thaw cycles and then more rain.  

Tom Wahl of Red Fern Farm in Louisa County has about a thousand chestnut trees and usually they produce a lucrative crop on his diverse farm.  

“We have no chestnut harvest this year,” he said this week, when he would have been bringing it in. “Out of approximately 1,000 bearing trees, we had one single tree that had what looked like more or less a normal crop on it.” Another 15 or so had some nuts but most, he said, produced none.

A few trees in the wettest soil died, but Wahl’s confident things will average out next year.

Credit courtesy of Red Fern Farm
This chestnut tree in July shows recovery from the excessive moisture, but doesn't have any nuts.

“Typically what chestnuts do when a weather event prevents them from producing a crop one year, they produce a double-crop the following year,” he said.

That won’t quite make his business whole, but will go a long way.

Patrick O’Malley of Iowa State Extension estimates a chestnut harvest statewide of less than one-third normal. While total chestnut production in Iowa is so small the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t track it, at least a couple of Iowa farms have more chestnut trees than Red Fern.

O’Malley said there are few peach trees in the state and most of them produced no fruit this year, though many varieties of apples did okay.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames