Some fruit and vegetable farmers in southwest Michigan suffered big losses after Friday morning's frost. Temperatures dropped to the mid-20s at least in spots in Berrien County. Asparagus, apple, cherry and peach blossoms got zapped.
WSBT toured GrandView Orchards in Bainbridge Township, owned by Rodney & Jeanette Winkel. The growing season is about a month ahead of schedule because of the unusual warm winter we had. So when temperatures dipped down into the freezing range after midnight, it may have wiped out more than 50 percent of their apple crop.
Apple trees were full of early blossoms, but the frost caused many of them to turn brown inside... meaning they can't produce apples.
We checked tree after tree, and only a handful of blossoms on each tree appear to be okay. Of the 100 blossoms Rodney Winkel cut open with a razor blade, only five buds were still alive.
"Obviously at this point, not a good situation," worries Winkel
Winkel has seven temperature gauges scattered throughout his orchards. The gauges record the lowest temps of the night.
On Friday morning, one of his gauges read 24 degrees, another 28 degrees. That was low enough to also damage his current asparagus crop as well.
Winkel inspects some spears, "That's frozen. And this one, it doesn't even snap. It's all slimy. That spear will eventually turn over and die."
Winkel estimates the cold weather will cost him 15 to 20 percent of his asparagus crop, and he's facing bigger losses in his apple orchard.
"The weather being so unusual this year has just made things a mess for farmers."
Some farmers, like Winkel, have wind machines on their farms. When turned on at night, these machines help to increase the temperature two to three degrees in a ten-acre area. However, Winkel says using the machines every time there's a frost or freeze warning is not economical.
The cold also poses another problem for farmers. It prohibits cross pollination. Cold temperatures keep bees in their hives instead of out pollenating trees...helping to turn blossoms into apples.
"It's a double whammy. Honey bees do not fly until you get 58, 60 degrees during the daytime."
So all Winkel says he can do for now is hope for the best, and for some warmer weather.
"You just hope to salvage what you can for the rest of the year."
Winkel also grows peaches and tart cherries and says those crops have been damaged as well.
And a lot of farmers, like Winkel, also have crop insurance for situations just like this.