Wild Weather Ruins Michigan Fruit Crops, Has Local Farmers Sweating
Frigid April temperatures ruined apple crops and now a drought is leaving farmers perplexed. "This is approaching a disaster year like we saw in '88," said Ferndale farmer Trevor Johnson.
Many Michiganders have enjoyed this year's wild weather, which brought unseasonably warm temperatures this winter and spring, but it also had a dark side: An unusual April freeze has devastated fruit crops in the state and now a drought is leaving farmers confounded.
"Frigid April temperatures ruined apple crops," said Don Mattson of Busy Bee Orchard. Mattson is one of many vendors at the Royal Oak Farmers Market.
"In March we had a two-week warm spell. Usually that time of year the ground is frozen a half-foot with a foot of snow on top of it," Mattson said. "Because it was unseasonably warm the sap started rising, the buds filled with juice and then the cold freeze came. On April 29 it got down to 29 degrees. The buds were damaged and we were wiped out."
Mattson said he lost 80 percent of his apple crop, which means he cannot sell to cider mills or other fruit stands this year.
"I barely have enough for myself," Mattson said. "We still have apples but not in large quantities." The Imlay City farmer said he is not sure if he will have apples to store for the winter.
To add insult to injury, Mattson has to continue to spray and irrigate or his crop next year will be ruined, too. It gets expensive, he said.
Drought leaves farmers sweating
With the wild spring weather behind us, now a drought has farmers worried.
Local farmer Trevor Johnson, of Ferndale, said a very dry spring and winter has fed into the current drought cycle and said this year could be the worst drought since 1988.
Johnson - who manages the Ferndale Farm, the Penrose Market Garden in Detroit and owns permaculture design company New Dawn Gardenscapes - said he had to rely on irrigation a lot more this spring and said certain crops stopped yielding earlier than usual.
"My spinach just stopped growing when we got that heat," he said. "I've had to irrigate almost every other or every third day, which is a lot of water."
But his small, diversified scale of farming is nowhere near as affected as larger-scale farms, Johnson said. "My experience has been a fraction of the disaster that any large-scale farmer has," he said. "We're feeling the pinch but it's not in any way like a corn farmer would be."
On the upside, "all my hot crops are really loving life," Johnson said. "They're getting the temperatures that they really thrive with."
With the situation "approaching a disaster year like we saw in '88," Johnson said the hope now is for "very slow rain on a consistent basis."
Even torrential rains once a week might not be enough, he said. "Dry soil resists re-wetting. It takes a lot of time for that soil to get re-wetted," he said.
"I am just barely keeping stuff alive," local farmer says
"I have had only two-tenths of an inch of rain in 45 days," said Danny Lutz, of Maple Creek Farms. "I've taxed my irrigation system beyond belief. I am just barely keeping stuff alive. It's ridiculous."
The difficulties of the farmers end up being problematic for market goers. Market Master Shelly Mazur said customers are grumbling about prices being high this year.
"I’m trying to get the word out that it is a very tough farm year," Mazur said. "People need to understand that these are hard working local farmers who have been devastated by the weather this year."
"It's supply and demand," said Jim Van Den Berg, of Van Den Berg Farms. "We have higher expenses this year to get a smaller supply. We are trying to keep our price increases at a minimum."
In the meantime Lutz a has a sign that reads:
Please: If you pray, chant, bow to the east, bow to the west, jump up and down, sing, throw salt in the air, then please do it with rain on our minds.
"The way we are making a mess of the planet, it's not going to get much better," Lutz said.