Deep Freeze Not All Bad For West Michigan Farmers

Posted at 10:44 PM, Jan 21, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-22 05:25:05-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A cold snap winter does not go unnoticed by farmers in Michigan, where agriculture $96 billion industry.

Unpredictable Michigan weather means farmers here diversify.

“We are raising multiple crops,” said Ed Robinette of Robinette’s Apple Orchard in Grand Rapids.  “Cherries, peaches, apples, nectarines, apricots, tree fruits.” But the family-owned farm goes beyond growing the fruit and selling it. “We’re making wine, hard cider.”

Robinette’s livelihood is on display and exposed. He pointed out a cherry tree. “Those are fruit buds. All we can do is hope that they will survive.”

Some crops are more vulnerable to winter’s wrath than others.

“There is a concern. Peach and cherry trees are more tender than apple trees,” he said.  “They are safe until about ten below zero.”

West Michigan has flirted those temperatures with this winter, but there is a reason farmers chose this area: Lake Michigan. “It keeps us warmer in the winter and cooler in the spring,” said Robinette.  “Things don’t bloom so early most years.”

The frigid cold isn’t all bad.  A gradual drop in temperature gives the trees time to adjust, and sustained cold can actually reap some benefits. “There is a potential that some of the bugs that we fight in the summer might not make it through the winter. Wouldn’t that be terrible?” joked Robinette.  “And it’s possible that some of the diseases, some of the spores on the ground, might not make it through the winter. So that would be some of the positive things.”

It’s hard to tell how much impact this deep freeze will have on insects, said entomologist James Dunn at Grand Valley State University.

“It’s probably going to reduce it to some extent,” said Dunn.  “Anytime you get cold, dry weather it’s going to kill some.  Where you really get the high mortality is when you get super cold that is well below zero, which we normally don’t get in Michigan because of the Great Lakes.”

Robinette said there is nothing preventative his farm can do at this stage, simply hope that a majority of the crop will come out of the winter unharmed.