Apr 22, 2021
Damage assessments pending as Michigan endures sub-freezing conditions

Despite another day of low-20 temperatures, fruit leaders say overall crop damage won’t be known for a couple of weeks.

An April 22 Michigan Farm Bureau report indicated Michigan fruit growth development is ahead by about two weeks due to early-season warm weather. Critical temperatures — or the temperatures when fruit buds are damaged or killed – range from 24 to 28 degrees, depending on the fruit.

Growers oftentimes use frost fans, fires, and micro-sprinklers to capture a few extra degrees.

In the West Olive area Wednesday, temperatures dipped to 21 degrees.

“It got pretty cold last night,” said Kevin Robson, executive director of the Michigan Blueberry Commission. “Southwest Michigan by the lakeshore fared better because of the cloud bank that forms because of Lake Michigan. We’re fortunate for our Great Lakes in times like these.”

Kevin Robson

Robson said it was too cold and windy for blueberry growers to do any type of prevention with irrigation.

“Another tough deal is the fact that we have had minimal moisture or low temps with no ‘frost,’ which is a tougher freeze than if there were moisture,” he said. “The good news is most blueberries, outside of a few farther-along varieties like blue crop, are in ‘Tight Cluster,’ which means they are less susceptible to damage.”

According to Audrey Sebolt, horticulture specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau, cherry producers won’t know the full extent of fruit damage until they get through bloom and pollination in mid-June.

“Overall, areas to the north were not as developed as Southwest Michigan andtherefore could withstand colder temperatures,” Sebolt said. “For Southwest Michigan, good fruit sites close to Lake Michigan suffered little to any damage, but lower sites away from Lake Michigan experienced cold enough temperatures to damage cherries.”

Michigan State University Extension educator Mark Longstroth wrote about the effects of a freeze on the flowers and buds of fruit trees. As tissues thaw, he said they’ll turn brown or black if they’re changed by the cold.

Cold conditions evident on April 21 in a  Schwallier’s Country Basket orchard in Sparta, Michigan. Photo: Schwallier’s Country Basket

“After a freeze, people often want to know how bad the damage was. It takes several hours for the symptoms to develop,” Longstroth said. “Experienced fruit growers can quickly assess the damage in the days following a freeze.”

Likewise, Dawn Drake said it will take time to see the extent of damage to the state’s apple crop.

“The growers have been fierce warriors over the past two nights battling Mother Nature,” said Drake, general manager of the Michigan Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Association.

“We won’t know the extent of any damage for several days but continue to be optimistic for a good crop.”


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