Published at PO Box 96 124 W. St. Clair Romeo, MI 48065. Phone: (586)752-3524 Fax: (586)752-0548
Updated Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 3 PM EST
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You are Viewing an Archived IssuePosted: 06/13/12
Growers, experts call
tree fruit loss `staggering'
by CHRIS GRAYOnly 10 percent of fruit crops in Michigan have survived, causing local orchards to wonder how they'll make it through the season.
Observer Staff Writer
Bob Tritten, fruit educator with Michigan State University Extension, said the most recent reports show the state has lost 90 percent of its apple crop and 95 percent of its cherries due to erratic spring weather.
He said abnormally high temperatures in March caused fruits to bloom early, leaving them to be killed off by roughly 15 freeze events. The most significant freeze took place April 29.
"The best word I can use to describe this event is `staggering,'" Tritten said. "It's staggering to see how much damage this event has done."
Other fruit crops didn't fair much better. He said there is a third of the peach crop remaining and only 5 percent of the state's sweet cherries have survived.
"This event is unique in that it really impacted almost all tree fruits east of the Mississippi River," he said.
Fruits that don't grow on trees escaped relatively unscathed, such as raspberries, blueberries and strawberries.
At the local level, Tritten said customers will still find fruit at their Romeo-area orchards, but will have to go early since most crops are two weeks ahead of schedule.
"Locally-grown fruit is going to be available in the summer and fall, but not as readily available as they might expect," he said. "In terms of peaches, they may already be harvested and sold before we get to Peach Festival time."
Even with Romeo enduring the devastation, it has still suffered major losses not seen since 1945.
Paul Blake, co-owner of Blake's Orchard and Cider Mill, said they lost roughly 90 percent of their apple crop and the cherry crop is virtually non-existent.
"We have a crop on our trees, it's just not very heavy," he said.
He said they are still assessing whether u-pick will be available this season. In the meantime, to supplement their supply, Blake said they will bring in apples from different areas of the state so they can still have fruit for their customers.
"I've been here for 65 years, we're going to operate just like any other year," he said. "Hopefully we'll offer more activities to do when families are at the farm and continue to improve our operations."
Not all is doom-and-gloom, though. Blake said they still have a decent peach crop, and expects the strawberries and raspberries to flourish.
"The (raspberry) bushes are seven feet tall, they're going to produce like never before," he said.
Westview Orchards is feeling the loss as well. Co-owner Abby Jacobson said they do not have a sweet cherry crop, a meager tart cherry crop and a small apple crop.
Like the rest of the state, she said they lost an average of 90 percent of their fruit.
"We will have fruit in our markets, but for us we won't do u-pick," Jacobson said. "It's not something you can plan for in advance."
Like other growers, she said they were able to save their strawberries to provide a crop ripe for people to pick themselves.
In terms of peaches, Jacobson said they will have the red haven variety ready by the beginning of August.
She said Westview's operations will expand to offer more opportunities for visiting families, such as improving its ice cream shop, to try and make it through this season.
"We just want people to know we're grateful and want to keep providing fresh fruit for them," Jacobson said. "All of us growers would really appreciate our customers' support . . . we need it more than ever."
Calls to Verellen Orchard and Miller's Big Red Apple Orchard were not returned by Observer deadline.