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Posted: 05/14/14

Above, cherries at Westview Orchard in Washington Township are beginning to bloom, giving owners a chance to determine how much of the crop survived.

(Observer photo by Chris Gray)

Fruit growers assessing
damage from cold winter

Observer Staff Writer
      Those raising crops in the Romeo area are in wait-and-see mode to determine how much damage, if any, this year's record-breaking winter inflicted.
       The 2013-14 winter brought with it the most snowfall ever seen in the Detroit area since 1880, multiple sub-zero temperature events and a late thaw.
       All this paints a grim picture for local growers, who are waiting out a delay in the season to assess whether peaches, cherries and other crops are lost.
       Bob Tritten is a fruit educator with the Michigan State University Extension that monitors the Romeo area. He said it's too soon to tell at this point whether peaches, plums and cherries survived.
       He said when temperatures go below freezing, around -10 degrees Fahrenheit, such fruit crops begin to sustain damage.
       "We had about five or six times where the temperatures were at the breaking point," he said. "It'll be two weeks before we know for sure what damage there may be."
       Cold damage will couple with the fact that last year's crop was an above average yield, meaning there is an expectation that this year will be lighter. Tritten, however, believes this may not be the case.
       "With the observations I've seen we have a nice amount of buds coming in from last year," he said.
       Bill Verellen, owner of Verellen Orchards, said he saw a lot of dead buds on his peach trees but expects his apples to come in fine since most of them are dwarf trees with smaller roots.
       "It doesn't look like we lost any trees," he said. "Everything is just starting to bud out a little bit, so it's hard to tell what we lost."
       The two-week delay may have growers waiting on pins and needles, but it is also a blessing in disguise. Verellen, like other growers, say they won't consider themselves in the clear until Memorial Day weekend when frost events cease to occur, so the holdup may save the delicate blossoms from such frosts.
       "If it gets above 50 degrees and stays above 50 for another week they should start pushing out," Verellen said.
       Growers around the state experienced harsh losses two years ago when an early spring warm-up caused plants to blossom, only to have them devastated by frosts.
       Katrina Schumacher, co-owner of Westview Orchards, said this spring has been a slow warm up compared to 2012, so the fruit crops are coming along nicely with the exception of peaches.
       "We may have lost most of the peach crop, but we're waiting to see," she said. "Maybe we'll be lucky and still have Red Havens and Paul Fridays, they're the winter-hearty ones we're hoping hanged on."
       She said strawberries, like the rest of the crops, will likely be ready a week or two after the normal dates, so those wanting the red berries will have access to them mid- to late June.
       Paul Blake, co-owner of Blake's Orchard and Cider Mill, wasn't as optimistic as his fellow growers, saying his peach crop and cherries looks heavily damaged.
       "I think peaches are going to be very, very light in Michigan," he said. "There is damage, but we're not sure of the extent."
       He said thankfully his apple crop looks like it had better luck surviving the winter, and strawberries will likely be a week behind schedule.
       "It looks like there is a crop out there, so that's good," he said with a laugh.
       Michigan is considered a national center for tart cherry production and also a major provider of apples and sweet cherries.

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