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West Michigan farmers prepare for colder weather

By Austin Metz / The Holland Sentinel • Oct 30, 2017 at 11:00 AM

With the recent drop in temperatures, the impending threat of some light frost in the air, and whispers of potential snow, local farmers are beginning to switch gears to prepare for the cold months.

Before diving too far into that preparation, farmers first need to work through the wet conditions created by rain experienced this past week. Farmers across the area have seen different amounts but one local farmer said they saw well over five inches of rain within the last week and a half.

For Mitch Visser, of Crisp Country Acres in Olive Township, the mindset for working in the wet conditions is pretty simple.

“You put the tractors in four-wheel drive and put boots on your feet and get after it,” Visser said. “You still got to get out there and do your thing. It is just a lot more challenging when you are working in mud up to your knees in some spots. It is muddy in some places and it is definitely more work.”

At Boeve Farms, 4136 52nd St. in Fillmore Township, fields as recently as Oct. 25 were flooded with pooling of over two feet of water but much of that has since drained, leaving farmers with more workable conditions.

For farmers, dealing with the weather is all about timing.

“We had a lot of the low ground picked already but it did have some impact on our tomatoes and peppers,” Boeve said. “If this rain would have happened in July or August, this amount of rain would have been a lot worse for everything. You are better off to be dry than wet because once it drowns, it’s gone.”

“Certain things are done now and this frost takes care of tomatoes and other stuff which is later than past years.”

Although a good amount of crops have been taken out of the ground by this time of year, there are still some crops in the ground including brussel sprouts, kale, swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage — cold crops known to survive colder temperatures.

Visser and Boeve said that with the recent frost, it actually can be beneficial to crops.

“Primarily crop growing is pretty much done and a little frost on the carrots and parsnips and root crops doesn’t hurt anything,” Visser said. “It kind of drives the sugar into the roots and actually makes for a better flavored crop, actually.”

At Boeve Farms, working on the fields generally takes place up until around Thanksgiving, with most of the late product being put in coolers to hold for two to three weeks.

For the farmers who have greenhouse capabilities, by late November and December, a good amount of the farming has moved from the fields to the greenhouse where conditions prove more favorable.

“There is usually always something growing in the greenhouse around here because it is protected space,” Visser said. “We will turn a lot of our growing toward the greenhouse and in there we have a lot of lettuce, swiss chard, spinach, kale, collard greens, basil, parsley, cilantro and that kind of stuff.”

And while farming slows down over the winter, the rest period is short for local farmers as equipment needs maintenance, greenhouses need cleaning, seeds need to be ordered and then, for Visser and Boeve, it all begins ramping up again with planting seeds.

“We seed them in a plug, in a little tray and then we grow them in the greenhouse and they get seedlings,” Boeve said. “Then, usually in late April, weather permitting, we start putting them in the field. We start peppers in March as well.”

For Visser and Crisp Country Acres, once January hits, the time has come to plant peppers, leeks and onions so they are ready to plant in the spring and complete maintenance on different machinery.

“January the time to get equipment repaired and maintained, we plow snow and that sort of thing,” Visser said. “There is always something to do but it does slow down a bit and that is okay.”

As for winter conditions, they don’t generally have too much of an impact on crops because snow can act as an insulator for any crops that are still in the ground. The main concern is for extreme temperatures that could freeze out the crops.

No matter what the conditions are this winter though, one way or another, farmers like Visser and Boeve will find a way to be prepared for next spring.

“People eat stuff 12 months out of the year so we grow stuff 12 months out of the year,” Visser said.

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