Tart Cherry Crop Damage

Cool morning lows in the 20's on March 26th combined with windy conditions caused many tart cherry trees to become damaged.

We spoke with Cherry Bay, Friske, and King Orchards and also the MSU Extension Center regarding this damage. Erin Lizotte of the Extension Center stated, "We saw upwards of about 70% damage in the initial survey that we've done looking at flower buds in the area. We've heard lower and higher reports from growers just depending on their location, and where they were at in terms of crop development."

Normally, the majority of orchards in Northern Michigan use large fans to continually mix the air- preventing the cold air from pooling in low areas of the orchards. Not many orchards in this area overhead irrigate crops like you may see in other fruit orchards out west, say in Washington. Here, most places don't have the infrastructure to use water as a protectant, and with the very cold temperatures we can have here it doesn't help as much as it would in a milder climate. Therefore, if we do have windy, cold nights, unfortunately there's not a lot that can be done to protect the fruit and it's a waiting game to assess damage.

With the recent warm weather we've had, the growing season has kicked off to an early start-beginning about 5 weeks ahead of schedule. Tart cherries normally bloom and ripen early in the year and are already susceptable to early frosts (this is avoided in annual crops by delaying planting). However, the MSU extension office stated that while risk is something growers have every year, with such an early warm up the risk window has been prolonged from 4-6 weeks to 10+ weeks of concern.

Richard Friske, of Friske Orchards, explained that the tart cherries were in the waterbud stage- the bud is tight, but the moisture in it can freeze, and that coldness can transfer to the fruit at the base of the bud, possibly killing it. Of the few he's looked at, he hasn't found a good, healthy bud yet. Friske, along with Don of Cherry Bay Orchards and Jim King of King Orchards, know there's damage- it's just not completely clear how much.

King has had bees trucked in from Florida about 4 weeks ahead of schedule to try and help with pollination. But now that we're back in chillier weather, the bees are moving limitedly- and he's not sure it's even warm enough for the pollen to move down the tube and fertilize the flower. Regarding other fruit crops, King said that his peach, apricot, sweet cherry, and apple trees are doing ok for now, but with more cold nights ahead he's not sure how they'll fare. Friske agreed, saying the sweet cherries aren't damaged yet, but are in a vulnerable stage.

The National Weather Service has issued a freeze warning for tonight for every county in the L.P. in our viewing area, and sub-freezing temperatures are expected for the next several nights. Lows are expected to be in the low 20s inland and the mid and upper 20s along the lakes.

Lizotte made sure to add that we won't have a definite idea of what this year's crop size looks like for weeks to come, but that the industry has a safety net in place. Tart cherries have been stored from previous years to make sure markets stay full of products and tart cherry lovers can still find them on the shelf at grocery stores.

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