MILWAUKEE — Bad weather over the past few growing seasons dealt a bit of a blow to horseradish crops this year, causing shortages of the spicy root here in the Midwest and abroad.
Cold and wet
While horseradish producers in Europe and Illinois also experienced problems with their crops, the issue here in Wisconsin was a spate of unusually cold wet weather over the past three growing seasons, explained Eric Rygg, president of Eau Claire-based Silver Springs Foods.
For Silver Spring Foods it meant having to leave between 1.5 million to 2 million pounds of the root in the ground last October, leading to delays in both harvesting and the planting of the next crop.
Horseradish roots typically must spend between 12 and 18 months in ground before being harvested. While harvesting them later doesn’t hurt the crop, doing so too early can mean much less of a yield.
“We had record snowfall during the 2018–2019 winter season in the upper Midwest, which pushed our spring harvest back to late-April and early-May of 2019. That’s much later than normal. The spring was also wetter than normal, and we had difficulty harvesting effectively until middle to late May,” Rygg said. “The seed stock we collect from the roots we harvest needs to return to the field for planting. We didn’t finish planting spring horseradish until July 2019, which is the latest on record.”
Normally Silver Spring Foods would be able to buy horseradish from farmers in areas like southern Illinois, but those farmers were also struggling to harvest their crop.
To ensure that that its customers, which include food producers, stores and restaurants, would be able to get enough horseradish to get by, the company developed an allocation plan.
It took a slightly different tack, however, when it came to producing its “Kosher for Passover” horseradish.
Anticipating some shortages in the market, the company actually made more of the specialty horseradish.
It’s not yet clear how the economic impact of the coronavirus will affect horseradish demand.
Although it won’t be able to access its fields again until the ground fully thaws in April, Rygg reported that the company recently started to come off allocation and was filling orders in full again.
That’s good news for all horseradish consumers.
Hoping to avoid a similar bind in the future, Rygg said Silver Spring Foods has contracted more with Illinois farmers who can harvest and ship horseradish from their fields in November, December, February and March.
“Demand for horseradish is strongest between November and January so this new source of root supply in the winter should match up nicely with our root demand,” Rygg said. “We also built another horseradish planter to help us plant more acres of horseradish in a shorter period of time between rainfall. We will now have two harvesting teams and two planting teams available to hit the dirt when conditions are good enough to dig or plant.”