Updated Forecast on Western Michigan Fruit Says to Focus on Strawberries

May 3, 2012 at 1:47 pm

A couple weeks ago, I posted a fairly bleak report on Michigan tree fruit after two early-April freezes caused a great deal of damage to the crops. At the time, the damage was still being assessed.

Although time will ultimately tell, the forecast now seems bleaker. In Southwest Michigan, which provides the Chicago-area with most of its local fruit, there was another hard freeze on April 27th — the fourth hard freeze in April. In Northwest Michigan, several nights dipped down into the 20s, although some cloud cover helped to protect plants and trees. With each freeze, more crop was potentially reduced. All tree fruits have been affected by the freezes, and many farmers say they no longer have the potential for a commercial crop.

Sweet/tart Cherries. In both Southwest and Northwest Michigan, farmers have predicted that sweet and tart cherry crops have been almost completely decimated. In Southwest Michigan, most tart cherries are chocolate brown, which means that the flesh of the cherry was frozen to a brown color, and will never grow to be plump and juicy. Many cherry farmers in both areas are now only managing the health of the trees for next year’s crop. In Northwest Michigan, generally known as the heart of Michigan’s cherry crop and where the National Cherry Festival occurs annually in Traverse City, tart cherries continued to decline with each new freeze event. Sweet cherries were not making it out of the shuck stage. As a result, the cherry industry has worked with Michigan State University, the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Sygenta, to obtain a 24(c) special local need registration  for clearance to legally use chlorothalonil beyond shuck split due to unusual crop concerns this year. However, with the 24 (c), growers must follow a series of restrictions in order to use this product legally throughout the growing season to ensure that post-shuck split applications of chlorothalonil do not result in illegal residues.

Brown tart cherries. The flesh of these cherries has been frozen, and will never be plump and juicy. Image: Mark Longstroth, MSU Extension

Brown tart cherries. The flesh of these cherries has been frozen, and will never be plump and juicy. Image: Mark Longstroth, MSU Extension

Peaches/Nectarines/Apricots. In Southwest Michigan, apricots are scarce, and most were wiped out by the April 27th freeze. Nectarines have pulled through so far a little better than peaches, and peaches might have some crop.

Apples/Plums/Pears. In Southwest Michigan, apples have undergone severe damage. Plums are scarce. The pear crop has suffered widespread loss. In Northwest Michigan, apples might have pulled through enough to produce a decent crop.

Juice/Eating grapes: Some good news for Concord and Niagara grapes – some places in Southwest Michigan have reported new growth on vines that were previously damaged by frost.

Berries. Another bright spot. In Southwest Michigan, blueberries have generally escaped damage due to their later blooming and growth. Many farmers have been irrigating fields for frost protection. Some good news: Strawberries are blooming, and are expected to arrive early, possibly in 1-2 weeks.

Wine Grapes. In Southwest Michigan, wine grapes on the whole are faring better, as they are late(r) bloomers, and did not progress as much during the March warm-up. Damage is not as widespread, though some early varieties, such as Chardonnay and Riesling suffered more than others. In Northwest Michigan, Chardonnay and Riesling are showing bud burst now, but are faring unevenly block to block. Overall, though, bud survival has been very good.

Pest control. In both Southwest and Northwest Michigan, farmers are adjusting pest control in light of recent weather events to manage fruit that may be more vulnerable to infestation or infection.

What does this mean?

Certainly, farmers will continue to monitor the situation. I’m told by some that if there is a tree fruit crop, it will be very small, and priced accordingly. What to do if you’re a locavore? Focus on strawberries, which will be here early in approximately 1-2 weeks. Eat blueberries, raspberries and melons. Like the Cubs, wait ’til next year. Support your local farmers’ markets even more vigorously — especially the fruit farmers who bring alternative crops to market.

Primary source:  MSU Extension Reports