Apple, cherry growers hoping for better season
After a rough 2012 for Michigan cherry and apple growers, fruit farmers are hoping the snow sticks around for a bit longer. (NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO / March 5, 2013)
Last spring, much of the state's apple and cherry crops suffered from a too-early growth spurt from well above average temperatures in March, followed by plummeting temperatures and overnight frosts in April.
"Last year was something really extraordinary," said John King of King Orchards in Ellsworth.
King grows both apples and cherries, with tart cherries taking up about 180 acres of the family's farm. King said that in 2012, he lost 90 percent of the cherry crop and his apples and peaches were also hit hard. While the farm has some catastrophic insurance, it wasn't enough to even cover the cost of his cherry labor, so there wasn't much use in picking them.
About 75 percent of U.S. tart cherries come from Michigan and the Northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula can produce 275 million pounds annually during a good year. But in 2012, according to the Michigan Cherry Committee, the official amount was 11 million pounds.
Michigan also produces approximately 20 percent of the nation's sweet cherry crop, which also suffered in 2012.
Apples didn't fare any better -- the Michigan Apple Committee said the historic weather we had last spring destroyed close to 90 percent of the state's apple crop.
But area growers are hopeful.
"This is shaping up to be a bit more normal as of right now," said Heidi Drost, retail market manager for Friske Orchards in Ellsworth.
"The snowfall is a good thing for us," she said. "The heavy blanket of snow is a benefit for the trees because it's protective and it doesn't hurt the trees in any way. They are sleeping and the snow works as insulation and moisture is great for the ground, so the more the better."
After a year of losses, both apples and cherries have the potential to produce a large crop for the 2013 season. Fruit trees have a normal balancing act in which nutrients, photosynthates and other resources are allocated to the fruits, buds and leaves on the tree. A tree that has produced fewer fruits will be able devote more nutrients to the developing buds.
"After bloom, apple trees begin initiating fruit and shoot buds for the following year's crop. While fruit is growing on the tree, buds for the following crop are already growing. This year, with so many trees not producing fruit, the nutrients absorbed by the trees can be allocated to the developing buds -- especially those that have the potential to produce fruit," said Amy Irish Brown, an extension educator with Michigan State University. "Their emergence (this year) will hopefully provide growers with a sizeable crop."
For now, growers wait.
"On a normal year, cherry trees may start blooming the first or second week in May with apples a week or two later," Drost said. "Things are looking good so far, but there's lots of time to get through yet."
"Nothing bad yet," King added. "But we're all hoping for a much better season."
Follow @RachelBrougham on Twitter.