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USA - Warmer weather puts fruit trees at risk from early growth

The calendar may say April, but it feels like summer across mid-Michigan.

While that may be good news for outdoor activities, fruit growers are worried about possible crop losses.

Unseasonably warm weather has accelerated growth to the point that they’re more vulnerable to a sudden cold snap.

Thoughts of 2012 are starting to enter the minds of mid-Michigan fruit farmers.

That’s when the state lost it’s entire crop of apples, cherries and peaches due to ten days of record heat in March, followed by sub-freezing temperatures in both April and May.

While what’s happening this spring is more gradual, buds and leaves are three weeks or more ahead of schedule.

“These don’t go in reverse either. They just keep moving ahead. Every time it’s above forty two degrees, the leaves keep expanding. They’re getting to the point right now where the buds in here, the apples in here, are getting pretty vulnerable”, said Almar Orchards owner Jim Koan.

Koan has seen it all in his 45 years growing apples.

He says temperatures in the low 20s will damage 90% of his apple crop.

But, once flowers appear, even the mid 20s will cause extensive damage.

And, it’s not just the cold he’s concerned about.

“Because we had drought last year and then not a lot of snowfall, and no spring rains to speak of, my water reserve down low for the trees down deep in the soil, there is none,” added Koan.

Koan has noticed a shift to more seasons with weather-related crop damage.

Damage that is putting pressure on more than just his trees.

“Margins of profit is smaller and smaller and smaller. So that every time we do freeze off, because of the changing climate, it hurts us even more. Because, I don’t have the reserve any more in the bank that I used to.”

Some good news for growers, sub-freezing temperatures look unlkely, at least for the next couple of weeks, and more rain is in the forecast.

If there are no weather issues, growers expect a crop of larger sized fruit than last year, when dry weather produced many smaller and sweeter apples.

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