Growers see some damage, prepare for more cold

Record-Eagle/Jan-Michael StumpAl Bakker stands in his Leelanau County orchard near a fan used to circulate air among the trees when temperatures deep in an effort to prevent them from freezing.

TRAVERSE CITY — The region's farmers toiled overnight to protect their orchards from a deep freeze.

"Farmers just don't go to bed when it's that cold," said Heidi Friske, general manager of Friske Orchards in Ellsworth.

Friske Orchards took preventative measures against the frost Tuesday night by using large wind machines, irrigation and sometimes brush piles, Friske said. 

"The apples and cherries, among other fruits, were affected," she said. "There's going to be some damage on those tender blossoms. Cherries are finishing and the apples are blossoming so they're in an extremely sensitive state."

Apples mostly were affected in Antrim County, while sweet cherries in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties took a blow, too, said Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of Michigan State University's Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center.

"It takes a while to feel what the damage really is. You might see some damage on one tree but won't know for the whole block or farm for a few days," she said. "We're still assessing but I don't think it's catastrophic. Growers are taking it in stride."

The full extent of damage to fruiting trees like cherries and apples won't be realized for another few weeks, but Bakker's Acres saw some damage this morning, said Lynn Bakker, owner of the Leelanau County farm.

"We sure did see damage. If we didn't have a wind machine, I'm sure we'd be seeing more trouble," she said. "We picked a few of the cherries and apples, they're in full bloom for both, and there will be some damage."

Bakker said she doesn't expect to lose all of the fruit.

"We probably lost some but I'm sure other places saw a lot more damage," she said.

Bakker's Acres plans on covering plants in their garden and will continue using the wind machines overnight for the orchards, Bakker said.

Temperatures plummeted to 29 degrees in Traverse City, and lower in other areas, said Mike Boguth, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service.

"There was pretty widespread cold, but coastal areas were typically a little warmer," he said. "The far inland spots hit into the lower 20s."

Daytime temperatures will rise into the 60s Thursday, but overnight lows are expected to be troubling for fruit trees and plants, he said.

"It's almost like a desert feel — very arid cold nights and warm days," Boguth said. "It's partially because of the dry soil. We had some rain but it's still not enough."

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