Traverse City Record-Eagle

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February 17, 2014

Harsh winter leaves fruit growers wary

TRAVERSE CITY -- It’s winter pruning time for local wine grape and fruit growers, but this year, the frigid weather and plentiful snowfall are providing challenging conditions in the orchards and vineyards.

Even so, area farmers know they have to roll with the punches.

“There’s a lot of rumble about what this long, cold snap could do,” said Paul Hubbell, president of the Grand Traverse Fruit Growers Council and owner of Orchard View Farm in Williamsburg. “But I’m born and raised in this and I’ve seen a lot of cold winters and snow. This is the kind of winter I remember growing up with. The bays always froze when I was a kid.”

“I’m not that concerned yet about my trees,” Hubbell said. “The best thing for the fruit industry is to have a normal winter — and normal is kind of hard to remember — but this is more like an old-fashioned winter, with a couple of feet of snow in the orchards and good moisture and insulation for the roots.”

Hubbell said fruit trees can withstand some pretty cold temperatures, but it all depends on a tree's health going into the fall.

“If a tree wasn’t very healthy to begin with, there’s more chance of damage than in a healthy tree. Now if we get 15-below wind chills, that could definitely have an effect on some buds,” he said.

He’s been pruning his apple trees all winter, but plans to wait until the coldest part of the season is over before pruning cherry trees, which are more susceptible to chilly temperatures.

“The one thing we don’t want is an early spring,” Hubbell said. “The longer we can hang onto the season, the better off we will be.”

Ben Bramer, owner of Agrivine on Old Mission Peninsula, would like to start pruning grapes, but the weather is holding him back.

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