Traverse City Record-Eagle

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June 5, 2009

Cold weather hampers crops

Chilly temps delay yield, farmers say

TRAVERSE CITY -- Cold weather keeps Leelanau County strawberry grower Gary Bardenhagen up at night.

Not worrying, so much, but working to keep Jack Frost away from this year's crop, a stress familiar to other area farmers and growers who struggle to fight off the effects of an unseasonably cool spring.

Bardenhagen spent several recent nights pouring water on his strawberry fields near Leland to make sure the fruit doesn't freeze before it's ready to be picked in a couple of weeks.

"We've got some surplus water in some of the fields; we've had to water so much," he said.

Local growers and agricultural officials said nagging cold hasn't yet created any widespread damage to northern Michigan's fruit and field crops. But some harvests will be delayed and yields are expected to be low for early-season hay and wheat.

Unrelenting chilliness also means farmers will have to wait to get their products to area farm markets or to processors, and anxious consumers won't be able to enjoy many of their fresh favorites as soon as usual.

Joy Urka's family operates u-pick strawberry fields near Kingsley and Brethren. Most years she's ready to open by next week, but this year's crop is a week to 10 days behind schedule.

Urka hopes her customers -- some travel hundreds of miles to pick at her patch -- don't show up before berries ripen.

"What we tell people is to call before they start their journey," said Urka, who's also been watering fields to prevent frost damage. "It's been cold."

Sandee Ware, of Ware Farm near Bear Lake in Manistee County, has had her share of sleepless nights while tending strawberries, and cold weather also diminished the farm's trademark asparagus production.

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