We all need to eat and the brutal winter is impacting some area farmers who grow our food. For example, if you like to bite into a delicious juicy fresh peach locally grown in Southwest Michigan, those will likely be in much shorter supply and cost more. That's thanks to the subzero cold temperatures we all shivered through this past winter.
"So I've been telling people that our peach crop got 'polar vortexed,'" says Mike Hildebrand of Hildebrand Fruit Farms near Berrien Springs. He predicts his entire peach crop has been wiped out. 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 just dead. It just froze the bud on the tree," Hildebrand explains.
Hildebrand's worries about his peach crop started clear back in early January. He posted on the farm's Facebook page at that time about how temps were down around 15 below on his farm. During that cold blast, the moderating impact of the lake effect just missed him and actually went north. He says peach farmers in Coloma, located just about 20 miles north of his farm, are fine because they got that lake effect warming. He says that makes all the difference between having a
healthy 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 near Baroda, the wine is still flowing freely and the severe winter won't have any impact on the tasting room. But outside the winery in the vineyards, it's a different story as winery owner and wine grape grower, Rockie Rick explains.
"As far as this year goes, we will have a lot less of a crop. I am hoping we may have 10% to 20% of a crop. Fifty-percent would be almost unthinkable," Rick says. "Peaches and wine grapes are very similar. They are pretty much the first to go when you get too cold."
Although Rick's 40 acres of wine grape vines survived the winter, many of the buds did not. That means very little fruit will grow on the vines this season. Typically, Gravity produces 8,000 to 10,000 cases of 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," Rick predicts.
Rick emphasizes that he has plenty of wine stocked up in tanks from last year when he had a bountiful crop. He says that is likely true for most of the area's wineries. So he says the experience visitors will 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 corn and soybeans are in better shape than the fruit farmers. But the winter has put some of these farmers behind where they'd like to be as they wait for the soil to finally warm up and dry out enough for planting.
"Well, I would say the anxiety builds every spring as we get closer and closer to planting season," says Gordon Millar who farms near New Carlisle.
"They're getting antsy. It's their livelihood. They want to get it out. Corn in the bag yields nothing," explains Phil Sutton who is with Purdue Ag Extension in St. Joseph County, Ind.
But Sutton says there is still plenty of planting season left. He says some Ag experts consider the third week of May to be the ideal time to plant.