Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 14, 2013

Fruit farmers: 'We dodged a bullet'

BY GLENN PUIT gpuit@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Fruit farmers reported very little damage to their crops following a deep chill that left a thick, frosty residue on grass blades and car windshields across northern Michigan.

“I think we dodged a bullet,” said John King, owner of King Orchards in Antrim County. “It looks like we are okay.”

King farms aobut 320 acres of cherries, apples, peaches and nectarines in the Central Lake area. He surveyed his crops Monday morning following overnight temperatures that dipped to 27 degrees. Cherries are King’s biggest crop, but he found little harm to his burgeoning blossoms.

“I don’t think there’s much damage,” King said. “At least none that’s evident yet.”

A handful of farmers in the Grand Traverse region said the same Monday about their apples, cherries and grapes.

“Everything looks great,” said John Kilcherman, who grows 85 acres of sweet cherries and apples at Christmas Cove Farm near Northport. “The blossoms are not out yet; they are just starting to come out, and with this warm weather coming, we are looking really good.”

Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station, said she observed sporadic but minimal damage to apple crops in Benzie and Manistee counties Monday. Several farmers said it’s a bit early to tell just how much or how little damage Monday morning’s frost caused. Frost damage can take days or even weeks to discern, they said.

“It’s always tough to tell with frost damage. It’s never an immediate thing unless it’s a wicked frost,” said Chris Baldyga, co-owner and general manager of 2 Lads Winery on Old Mission Peninsula. “Given that Old Mission has a little more warmth and land mass than Leelanau, I don’t think we got impacted at all.”

Minimal damage to crops is much-needed good news to fruit growers, given a devastating 2012 season in particular for cherry farmers. An unusually warm March followed by frosts destroyed cherry blossoms. The USDA reported the tart cherry crop in 2012 was almost a complete loss, and losses of sweet cherries were estimated at 80 percent or higher.

The National Weather Service said a chunk of cold air “broke off” from the North Pole and came across the Great Lakes Sunday, making for an unusually windy and chilly day. The lowest temperature recorded in the Grand Traverse region was 27 degrees in Antrim and Benzie counties. Temperatures were even colder in Manistee County, with an overnight low of 21 degrees reported near Wellston.

Jim Keysor of the Weather Service’s Gaylord office said temperatures will rise throughout the week and eventually make it into the 70s.

“With the warmer temperatures we may have to deal with a few showers or thunderstorms, but most people will probably take that trade-off ,” Keysor said.