Assessing agricultural damage after weekend freeze

Posted at 6:15 PM, May 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-12 18:15:02-04

SPARTA, Mich. — Temperatures overnight last weekend, May 10-12, got into the mid-20's for 8 to 9 hours in parts of West Michigan, according to the Fox 17 weather team.

Cold like that in May can cause real problems for blooming crop like apples.

Audrey Sebolt of the Michigan Farm Bureau told us that while it's too early to tell the extent of the crop damage, some are certainly more susceptible than others.

"Yes, it was a very stressful weekend and it depends on the region and the crop and the crop stage." Sebolt told FOX 17. She says, at least financially, some crop growers may be covered, but it doesn't undo the damage.

"It's estimated about 80% of apple growers and most cherry growers have crop insurance. It doesn't totally replace the fruit that was lost, but it does provide a safety net to get them through these difficult times. Hopefully we will have growers that don't have a total crop loss, but there may be a few that do."

Jeff VanderWerff, an apple grower in Sparta, believes he may have lost between 40% and 50% of his apple crop this past weekend.

VanderWerff explained how certain types of apples bloom sooner, like Ida Reds, which are "basically smoked off" or gone. But others like Gala, Fuji and Honey Crisp bloom later, so he expects they will survive better this year.

"It gets tough because we have to produce a crop in order to keep our markets intact." VanderWerff told FOX 17. "I'm a consumer the same as you or anybody else. People expect to go to the store and find certain varieties of Michigan apples. Well we can't get them to grow because the weather won't cooperate, so it makes it challenging sometimes,"

And despite the best efforts to artificially warm the temperatures, VanderWerff says it's still difficult.

"I had a neighbor who Saturday night had a considerable investment bringing in helicopters and things like that. A lot of hay bales were burnt, brush piles, trying to generate heat. But it takes so much heat to overcome cold. It's really hard to generate enough heat to heat up an orchard, you're talking about a 40 acre area." VanderWerff said