Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

May 10, 2014

Ag Forum: A harsh winter and fruit crops

Spring does not seem like it will ever come for many of us here in northwest Michigan.

Cool and wet weather has become the norm, and the occasional sunny day comes as a bit of a surprise. We are slowly accumulating degree-days (heat units used to measure development of living organisms that depend on temperature for growth such as plants and insects), but we are considerably behind our 20-plus year average collected at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center (NWMHRC). Although things can change quickly with a week of really warm weather, we estimate we are about two weeks behind normal. In addition to cool temperatures, we have had substantial rainfall. In April, we had almost 5 inches of rain and in May, we had more. These conditions coupled with a long, hard winter have many people wondering how our fruit crops are looking for 2014.

First, this winter presented many challenges. With much of Lake Michigan frozen, as it was during the 2013-14 winter, the moderating effects are lost. Hence, we recorded winter temperatures down in the -20s F, even in the most optimal fruit growing sites such as Old Mission Peninsula.

The results of these cold temperatures are under assessment. Peaches, which are one of our most tender fruit crops, sustained some damage to the trees. Growers are just starting to cut into wood and force blossoms to determine the extent of damage. The upshot of these initial peach assessments will be forthcoming in this column. Our most popular varieties of wine grapes are called French hybrids, which are not as hardy as their North American hybrid cousins. Because these French varietals are more sensitive than grapes native to this country, they have sustained some damage this winter. However, many of the varieties that grow well in our region, such as Riesling and Chardonnay, have fared better than some more obscure varieties. Wine grapes also have an inherent safeguard built in when cold temperatures hit: primary buds can be killed off in cold winter temperatures, but secondary buds can still produce fruit. Hence, Michigan wine drinkers will be sure to taste the fruits of the 2014 vintage. Cherries, both tart and sweet, have likely endured this long-lasting winter, but we have new recent reports of damage in some young sweet cherry orchards. This damage may be isolated to particular sites. Lastly, apples, our hardiest of tree fruits, have likely fared well during this winter.

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