Fruit Growers Hope Trees Don't Bud Early as Forecast Points to Snow

February 24, 2017 02:11 PM

While many have enjoyed these abnormally warm temperatures in February, it’s sparking fear among fruit farmers.

Michigan growers are watching the weather closely. During the week, temperatures got increasingly close to the 70-degree mark, despite forecasted snow over the weekend. The warm temps are far from ideal for stone fruit crops, which could see some damage because of the weather extremes.

For Bill Teichman, owner of Tree-Mendus Fruit in Eau Claire, Mich., it’s common for him to trim trees this time of year.

“I’m concerned,” said Teichman. “I’m going to watch things, but I’m not worried because we still have a nice crop.”

The concern stems from a fairly mild fall and winter with little snowfall and temperatures nearing 70 degrees in February.

“We have to go back to 1930 to find a similar February in southwest Michigan where they had multiple days in a row of 60 degrees plus,” said Mike Hoffman, U.S. Farm Report meteorologist. “They had seven straight in 1930. We’re going to get seven or eight this year.”

Stone fruit like peaches, cherries and apricots could be impacted the most by the warm weather if the crop comes out of dormancy and buds early. The threat of a spring freeze will loom large.

Kenny Stover, with Stover’s Farm Market and U-Pic in Berrien Springs, Mich. says it doesn’t take much to get the sap moving in the trees, sending buds into motion.

“You have to get through Mother’s Day before you’re home free away from any hard freezes that could potentially wipe you out,” said Stover.

Fruit needs a certain number of chilling hours each winter to put them into dormancy. Stover feels the trees aren’t as ‘sleepy’ as they should be because of the mild winter with little snow.

“We haven’t had a lot of cold weather,” said Stover. “I feel the trees aren’t as dormant as they have been in other years, especially with the little rain. This could spell trouble.”

Others say the trees in the area saw the right amount of cold, but barely.

“If we break dormancy and go into the season, the trees will be normal because they’ve had enough cold temperatures,” said Teichman.

Producers say they’re not too concerned about more snowfall, but they do worry about temperatures dropping too low.

“If it gets to 10 degrees, I think we could have significant damage,” said Teichman. “It can snow at 32 or 33 degrees. The snow isn’t significant.”

In 2012, Teichman uprooted dead trees due to damage.

“Out of 5,000 peach trees, we lost two-thirds of our peach trees and quite a few apple trees and plums,” said Teichman.

This is the first year he will have a peach crop off the new trees.

Producers say it’s too early to tell whether this year is a repeat of 2012 because it’s only February and they say a lot can happen this spring.

“In 2012, we had eight days in the 80s in March,” said Stover. “This isn’t near where we were in 2012 when we were in the 80s. Again, that timeframe is another two to three weeks away,” said Stover.

“We are so early in the spring, it is likely we will get another freeze,” said Hoffman.

Until the season progresses, producers like Teichman will continue to prepare for another year and be at the mercy of Mother Nature.

“Until the check clears, you really don’t know what kind of a season you’re going to have,” said Teichman.

“You have to be optimistic in farming,” said Stover. “It is a little nerve racking seeing it this warm this early. As long as it doesn’t stay, I think we’ll be OK.”

Both growers have a level of crop insurance, even though it is expensive. Both growers also say they’re noticing some disease and pest pressure already. It’s something they normally don’t see so early in the season.

While growers are watching stone fruit for damage, they aren’t too anxious about brush crops yet. Those crops progress later in the season. 

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