Jun 20, 2019
Southwestern Michigan peaches, other crops crimped by polar vortex

The peach crop in southwestern Michigan was nearly wiped out by the polar vortex that sent temperatures plummeting to minus 20 degrees for a couple of nights at the end of January and appears to have also affected some of the apricot, plum and apple crops.

According to a story by the South Bend Tribune, depending on the type of fruit and where it is grown, other harvests also will be affected.

Bill Teichman surveys the peach trees at Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm in Eau Claire, Michigan, and points out the deep vertical cracks that have opened up on many of the trunks.

Some are bleeding sap, and many are struggling to even put out leaves. Teichman is doubtful that any of the trees will bear fruit this year, and he already knows that quite a few will have to be replaced.

Though the damage on the peach trees was visible, Teichman couldn’t tell how other fruit trees might have been impacted by the polar vortex until the June drop was over – that’s when each tree decides how much fruit it will bear.

According to the Tribune story:

“Despite the healthy appearance of the trees, several varieties of apples and other fruits unfortunately decided to drop their produce and put their energy into rejuvenation, rather than production. Luckily, the sweet and tart cherry crop is looking great this year at Tree-Mendus, which will open its farm store and its orchards in the next few weeks.

“I’m not thrilled to lose the harvest, but I’m glad to see those trees are healthy,” Teichman said while looking for signs of hope in the 500-acre orchard.

Bill Shane, a tree fruit Extension specialist for Michigan State University, estimated that damage to fruit crops will be in the millions of dollars in southwestern counties and negligible farther up into Michigan as those areas were better protected by winds coming across Lake Michigan.

Teichman said he will file an insurance claim for his losses, but that only helps the farm pay its bills, not make a profit.

“We’ve lost our peach crop twice in the past seven years,” he said, adding that he was still recovering from a late cold snap that killed peach trees in 2012.

Monica Teichman, who runs the farm store at Tree-Mendus, said it’s hard to simply walk away from peaches because the fruit provides another draw for the family-run orchard. But her husband said they might have to reconsider that position if there’s yet another brutal cold snap next year.

Quite a few local growers have given up on peaches since 2012, and even Teichman has cut his peach exposure down to 12 acres from 28 acres over the past several years.

Beyond the lost harvest of peaches and other fruits this year, the damage from the polar vortex will continue to take a toll by shortening the life span of trees that were severely damaged, said Shane.

The same pain is being felt by other fruit growers in the region.

It might be a couple of years before Hinkelman Farms in Benton Harbor can get some of its grapes back into production, said Ben Smith, who manages the family farm. Some varieties were killed down to the ground so it’s going to take some labor and some years before they’re in full production again for Welch’s or wine makers in the region, he said.

“Farmers know this is going to happen,” Smith said. “Weather events happen.”

That’s why careful management and crop diversification is important, he said, adding that even geographic diversification helps ensure that at least some land will be producing even if other spots aren’t doing so well.”

For the complete South Bend Tribune account, visit here.



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