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      Fruit growers getting help for damage done in 2012 freeze

      Growers can sign up for the assistance at their local farm service agency starting Tuesday. They can apply up until September 22.

      Fruit growers affected by the crop freeze of 2012 received some relief Monday.

      Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow says any grower who didn't have access to crop insurance is eligible for retroactive help.

      Michigan growers are responsible for more than three quarters of the country's tart cherry supply, according to state agriculture officials.

      They say Michigan growers are able to produce around 275 million pounds a year, but severe weather decimated that potential in 2012.

      ??In 2012, we only had 11.6 million pounds,?? said Phil Korson, from the Michigan Cherry Marketing Institute. ??It was a total devastation for our industry.??

      For growers across the state, it was the same sad story of crop loss: instead of blossoming trees, they had budding debt.

      ??Everything. We lost all our sweets and tarts,?? said Jim Bardenhagen of Bardenhagen Farms. ??We had all the cost of producing it, but no income from the crop. Operations that normally had millions of pounds had a tanker or two of 1,000 pounds.??

      Many growers are still recovering and trying to make ends meet after the devastating loss.

      ??You can't pay everything back in one year even though we had a crop last year,?? said Bardenhagen.

      2014 is the first season tart cherry growers have had the opportunity to purchase crop insurance. Under the farm bill at the time, several types of growers were excluded from insurance eligibility, which had severe consequences for the growers.

      ??These are folks that did not have access to crop insurance at the time and this will provide them with really critical support,?? said Sen. Stabenow.

      Stabenow announced Monday that the 2014 Farm Bill allows producers who did not have access to crop insurance to purchase 65 percent coverage on their losses.

      ??Once you have hit a loss above a coverage level of 35 percent, you will be basically reimbursed dollar for dollar of $125,000,?? explained Stabenow.

      For operations like Bardenhagen's, the retroactive disaster relief will make a big difference.

      ??It's going to be just a fantastic help to get some of those bills paid for a lot of growers,?? said Bardenhagen. ??I'm sure everybody's pretty busy in harvest right now, but we're going to be anxious to sign up for that. It's going to be a real shot in the arm for us.

      Growers can sign up for the assistance at their local farm service agency starting Tuesday. They can apply up until September 22.

      The bill also covers lost trees through the tree assistance program. There is no prerequisite to qualify.