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Late frost hits Michigan’s fruit crop, harm unknown
Michigan Correspondent

LANSING, Mich. – Although Gov. Jennifer Granholm last week requested federal assistance for Michigan farmers in 28 counties hit by late-season frost, growers and industry officials say it’s too early to tell the extent of the damage.

“April’s extreme drop in temperature was devastating for our fruit and vegetable farmers in lower Michigan,” Granholm said in a statement. “On their behalf, I am requesting federal disaster assistance to free up available resources and help reduce the economic impact of this severe weather.”

The counties included in Granholm’s request were Allegan, Antrim, Barry, Benzie, Berrien, Cass, Charlevoix, Eaton, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Hillsdale, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Kent, Leelenau, Macomb, Manistee, Mason, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Otsego, Ottawa, St. Clair, St. Joseph, VanBuren, Washtenaw and Wayne.

Phil Schwallier Michigan State University (MSU) Extension District Horticultural Marketing educator in Clarksville said the state’s fruit crop is “in the process of fruit set. We’re trying to guess if the crop is setting or not.

“We already know that some varieties (of apples) have been damaged by the frost,” Schwallier said. For example, “Red Delicious are very sensitive to frost.”

However, he also said, “The majority of our apple varieties appear to be setting a normal crop.”

According to Ron Rasch, an apple grower in Newaygo County’s Fremont area, “It looks like a nice crop coming on. There’s probably some (frost) damage in the low-lying areas, but it’s way too early to tell.”

Kent County fruit producer Ann Blok of Blok Orchard in Ada said they are in the process of thinning their apple crop.

“It looks pretty good. I don’t know how it’s going to thin out yet,” she said. “We don’t know which ones are going to stay behind. They’re small, but some are getting bigger.”

As for peaches, which Schwallier said have sustained more injury than the apples, Blok’s crop “are looking pretty good.

“Even if we had some problems (from frost) we have enough to offset it,” she said of the quantity of peaches grown at the farm. In the Traverse City area Schwallier said that stone fruits such as cherries and peaches were hit harder by frost than in West Michigan. “Traverse City is predicting that they have 50 percent of a crop of stone fruits,” he said.

As for apples, Schwallier said in the Traverse City area “They already know that 70 percent of their flowers are dead. They are predicting that 70 percent of their apple crop is gone.”

West Michigan is the state’s primary apple growing area, producing about 60 percent of Michigan’s apple crop, while Traverse City grows about 70 percent of the state’s cherries and only about 15 percent of its apples.

“We are the apple producing region and at this point it appears that we have nearly a full crop,” Schwallier said of West Michigan. However, he said the next two weeks will really tell the tale of this year’s apple season.

“On medium-sized apple trees there are 10,000 flowers. We only need 5 percent, or 500 flowers to have a full crop,” Schwallier said. “Two days after the frost hit we could see that some of the flowers were damaged. It was quite visible. The other flowers could be damaged. In about two weeks we will be through the fruit set and we’ll know if it’s going to be a good crop or not.”

For federal disaster status to be granted, original crop loss estimates must be verified by harvest yield information. If losses of 30 percent or more are found, and the disaster request is granted, eligible growers would be able to secure low-interest federal emergency loans for up to 100 percent of their weather-related losses.

This farm news was published in the June 7, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.