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Berry concerned

Alex Doty • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:27 AM

Carini called the budding “unprecedented” and said there were five weeks of added stress about whether frost and freezing temperatures will damage the fruit crops. Unseasonably warm temperatures during the past several weeks have caused buds to form on many fruit plants, making them especially susceptible to frost.

WZZM-TV meteorologist Aaron Ofseyer said temperatures were expected to fall into the 20s in some locations this morning. The average day for the last freeze isn't for at least a month.

According to WZZM-TV, on April 10, 2010, the temperature dropped from 71 degrees during the day to 29 degrees at night.

Carlos Garcia, Ottawa County Michigan State University Extension specialist, said it is still too early to know if the weather will have any negative impact on the county’s blueberry crop.

“If we continue with the cold weather, we’ll see some effect,” he said. “How much? Who knows?”

Prior to flowering, Garcia said blueberry plants could tolerate temperatures in the 28-degree range. Once the plants have flowered, he said they are more susceptible to damage from the cold temperatures.

“We may have more problems in the next phase,” Garcia said.

Howard Behm, owner of Behm Blueberry Farm in West Olive, said he was looking out for his crops by putting a food-grade liquid fertilizer on the plants in order to protect them from cold weather. The fertilizer, he said, saves 5-6 degrees, depending on wind speed.

“The more cool nights we have, our fruits have a chance to be considerably sweeter,” Behm said.

While it might be too early for people to tell what kind of impact there will be on blueberries, other crops have already started flowering.

“This might impact some of the early fruit crops like apples and cherries,” Garcia said.

MSU horticulturist and apple farmer Phil Schwallier said he finds himself in a very risky situation as his apple blossoms bloomed four weeks ahead of schedule.

That means he has to spend an extra month spraying — a process that will cost the farm an extra $25,000 this year.

But Schwallier has much more at stake. He needs two more months of these warm temperatures to grow his crop.

"You get to a certain stage in that bud development, and it gets down to 27 degrees, you're not going to have a crop of fruit," Schwallier said.

He said just one night of frost could damage 20 percent of his crop.

"If it's cold for one, two, three, four hours at that temperature, we can have 90-percent loss of the flower buds," Schwallier said.

WZZM-TV contributed to this report.

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