Fruit Farmer: "Our peach crop got Polar Vortexed!"


We all need to eat and the brutal winter is impacting some areafarmers who grow our food. For example, if you like to bite into adelicious juicy fresh peach locally grown in Southwest Michigan, thosewill likely be in much shorter supply and cost more. That's thanks tothe subzero cold temperatures we all shivered through this pastwinter.

"So I've been telling people that our peach crop got 'polarvortexed,'" says Mike Hildebrand of Hildebrand Fruit Farms nearBerrien Springs. He predicts his entire peach crop has been wipedout. The fruit buds are literally flaking off the trees.

"I have yet to see a live bud on any of our peach trees. They're justdead. It just froze the bud on the tree," Hildebrand explains.

Hildebrand's worries about his peach crop started clear back in earlyJanuary. He posted on the farm's Facebook page at that time about howtemps were down around 15 below on his farm. During that cold blast,the moderating impact of the lake effect just missed him and actuallywent north. He says peach farmers in Coloma, located just about 20miles north of his farm, are fine because they got that lake effectwarming. He says that makes all the difference between having ahealthy crop or having no crop at all.

"It's all supply and demand. We grow a lot of peaches around here, so people will have to drive farther north and those guys are gonna smile." Hildebrand says.

Not far from Hildebrand Fruit Farms, at the Gravity Winery nearBaroda, the wine is still flowing freely and the severe winter won'thave any impact on the tasting room. But outside the winery in thevineyards, it's a different story as winery owner and wine grapegrower, Rockie Rick explains.

"As far as this year goes, we will have a lot less ofa crop. I am hoping we may have 10% to 20% of a crop. Fifty-percentwould be almost unthinkable," Rick says. "Peaches and wine grapes arevery similar. They are pretty much the first to go when you get toocold."

Although Rick's 40 acres of wine grape vines survived the winter, manyof the buds did not. That means very little fruit will grow on thevines this season. Typically, Gravity produces 8,000 to 10,000 casesof wine a year.

"But I'll have a very, very small crop. We'll make wine out of it.We'll do the best we can and look forward to next year," Rickpredicts.

Rick emphasizes that he has plenty of wine stocked up in tanks fromlast year when he had a bountiful crop. He says that is likely truefor most of the area's wineries. So he says the experience visitorswill have at area tasting rooms won't be impacted at all.

But as bad as the polar vortex was, fruit farmers say it pales in comparison to 2012. That season so many fruit crops were wiped out by the weather. This year's harsh winter so far only seems to be impacting select crops that bloom earlier. Farmers think their other fruit crops that bloom later made it through the winter okay.

Farmers prepping fields for planting traditional row crops like cornand soybeans are in better shape than the fruit farmers. But thewinter has put some of these farmers behind where they'd like to be asthey wait for the soil to finally warm up and dry out enough forplanting.

"Well, I would say the anxiety builds every springas we get closer and closer to planting season," says Gordon Millarwho farms near New Carlisle.

"They're getting antsy. It's their livelihood. They want to get itout. Corn in the bag yields nothing," explains Phil Sutton who iswith Purdue Ag Extension in St. Joseph County, Ind.

But Sutton says there is still plenty of planting season left. Hesays some Ag experts consider the third week of May to be the idealtime to plant.

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