Monday, April 28, 2014

Beginning to evaluate fruit damage from The Winter of 2014

Now that the snow is gone and we appear to have dodged spring flooding, for the most part, we will start to see what kind of damage the three rounds of polar vortex did to our trees and landscaping.

Earlier this month Michigan State University wrote a summary of their evaluation of blueberry crop damage due to road salting and extreme low temperatures. Blueberry bushes exposed to salt because of their close proximity to highways  (up to 100% in some places) had a higher dieback rate than blueberry bushes exposed just to cold, but both suffered substantial damage: "in areas where minimum temperatures dropped below 0 F for several days, we may expect to observe winter damage to blueberries in the range of 20 to 61 percent."

Apples and pears can take colder temperatures, but stone fruits like peaches and cherries are more vulnerable. Grape vines for table grapes and Michigan's growing wine industry were affected as well, although a decent grape crop is still a possibility even with significant bud loss.

Besides damage from the weight of snow and ice, trees and bushes also suffered predation from hungry animals who could not find other food in the harsh winter. Deer, rabbits, and mice nibbled at winter wheat and tree bark, inflicting an unusually high amount of damage on fruit trees.

It's also obvious that everything is going to be later than normal. It's the end of April, and tulips and daffodils are out. In many ways the long, slow warm up was the best possible outcome, both for avoiding flooding and for fruit outcomes, but it means later crops and smaller planting windows for early spring crops like sugar beets. The fields have taken a long time to drain as well, with so much snow melt. Fortunately, April was  not an overly wet month - a blessing.

Michigan is fortunate to have such a diversity of crops grown - all of our tables are improved by the abundance and variety of Michigan agriculture. But spring is a anxious time for farmers in many crop industries, particularly after the abnormal winter we just experienced. It seems likely that we as consumers won't see the vacuum of fruit as in 2012, but say a prayer or keep your fingers crossed for the farmers anyway. They need good crop years to reinvest in our foodshed and themselves.