SWM Fruit Farmers Facing Sleepless Nights Due to Weather

The next couple of nights may well be sleepless ones for a major segment of the local economy. Fruit farmers in Michigan’s Great Southwest…and across the entire state for that matter…will be on tenterhooks in anticipation of overnight low temperatures hovering dangerously close to potentially lethal territory.

The Michigan Farm Bureau tells us that while a majority of Michigan fruit farmers have avoided major weather-related crop losses due to late season frost, that could all change this weekend, with overnight temperatures predicted to go as low as 30 degrees early tomorrow (Sunday, May 7th) morning, followed by forecasts of 32 degrees on Monday morning.

According to Michigan Farm Bureau Horticultural Specialist Kevin Robson, farmers throughout western Michigan’s fruit growing region will get little sleep overnight tonight and early tomorrow morning as they monitor thermometers and stand ready to take protective measures to minimize the impact of killing frosts to peach, apple and cherry trees.

Robson says, “Countless fruit growers have installed frost fans, which aid in pulling the warmer air down into the floors of the orchards, keeping temps above freezing.” He says, “This spring’s erratic temperatures and abnormally wet weather pattern has had growers on the edge of their seat when it comes to weather.”

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While farmers have been spared up to this point, Robson says the advanced stages of bloom development in many orchards, particularly in southwest Michigan, makes the crop even more vulnerable.

He explains, “This will be a precarious make-or-break weekend for many of the state’s fruit farmers.” He points out that several fruit farmers have reported wide variation in bloom development, even within the same orchard.

Michigan fruit farmers fortunate enough to survive this weekend’s predicted frost events won’t necessarily be off the hook, either —not yet anyways warns Robson.

Robson notes, “While we’re really worried about Sunday morning, we are getting closer and closer to the full moon on May 10, which will most likely lead to no cloud blanket.” He explains, “Those clear skies combined with many fruit trees that will be in advanced bloom, will mean another sleepless night.”

Michigan State University Extension Fruit Educator Mark Longstroth says that Berrien County will come dangerously close to trigger points with the overnight low tonight projected at 34 and on Monday morning dipping potentially to 32. He tells me that a temperature down to 30 would hurt grapes in the region.

Michigan’s more traditional row-crop farmers will also be experiencing some sleepless nights—when it finally stops raining long enough for ground conditions to become dry enough for spring tillage and planting activities.

Michigan Farm Bureau Associate Field Crop Specialist Kate Thiel says heavier than normal precipitation this spring and persistently cold soil temperatures are starting to show their impact in USDA’s weekly Crop Planting Progress Reports. She expects the May 8 report will show an even more dramatic drag in planting progress.

Thiel says, “For the period ending April 30—so a week before this last major rain cycle in early May—63-percent of the state’s cropland reported surplus soil moisture.” She adds, “That same report showed only 32-percent of sugar beet planting was completed compared to the five-year average of 53-percent. Traditionally, sugar beets are the first major row crop planted.”

Thiel said the April 30 report showed planting progress for corn at 5-percent compared to the five year average of 12-percent while soybeans, normally the last of major row crops planted was at 1-percent planted versus the five-year average of 3-percent.

Stay tuned and hope for the best with these overnight low readings from the National Weather Service.