2017-11-16 / Front Page

Cold snap root of tree concerns

Apple harvest late, ends in hurry
By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff

Fresh off a hefty apple harvest, Cedar fruit grower Greg Williams wasn’t sure what impact the sudden cold spell might have on his trees.

“I don’t think it’s going to hurt, but it’s hard to say,” Williams said.

Others are a bit more concerned.

The “slam down” of temperatures, as Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center Coordinator Nikki Rothwell put it, left little time for trees to start their cold acclimation process.

“I’m worried about the cold temperatures on some of the younger trees or trees that haven’t hardened off yet,” Rothwell said last week. “We’ve had a couple grower calls and a bunch of conversations going on about what this means — could it cause damage?”

Suttons Bay Township grower Jim Bardenhagen said it’s a concern for both apple and cherry trees.

Trees didn’t have time to “put their coats on for winter,” Bardenhagen said.

“We don’t want to see the single digits, and we got pretty darn close there,” Bardenhagen said. “That can have ramifications as far as injury to the tree. We’ve got a lot of trees that have green leaves on them yet.”

Ideally, trees have a stretch of 32-to-40-degree weather in which to gradually adjust to cold temperatures.

When temps go from the 40s to the teens like they did last week, however, it can lead to limb damage or worse.

“It can also affect the buds for next year,” Bardenhagen said, “but we didn’t get down past 15 (degrees) — 15 was the lowest I heard. That’s borderline. I don’t know if we have anything to panic about yet; it’s just a concern.”

Bardenhagen said state apple growers produced a “tighter-than-usual” crop this year due to an untimely spring frost downstate. The Leelanau County harvest, meanwhile, was a mixed bag.

The harvest started and ended in a time crunch. Warm temperatures in September forced growers to get apples off trees ASAP, and the cold snap last week had a similar effect.

“From what I’m hearing, it’s a question of how well they’ll store this winter,” Bardenhagen said. “They may have to move them faster than they normally would. You’re seeing quite a bit of sales right now of apples in stores. Packers are pushing them out.”

Price is pretty strong in Michigan this year, he said. Wholesale bushels of Honeycrisp and Sweet Tango apples are falling in the $70 range for wholesale and about $2.49 per pound.

Rothwell said growers are pleased.

She also said growers were mostly satisfied with the amount of manpower available, although many “got creative” this year.

“A lot of people have moved to the H-2A program,” she said, referring to the federal guest worker program. “Most have been generally pleased this year, but labor is always on growers’ minds.”

The new concern this year both on the peninsula and downstate is brown marmorated stinkbug damage.

Bugs eluded traps at the research station, however, making reports of damage puzzling to some degree.

“People are finding them in the house, but we’ve never trapped them in any of our traps and growers never saw them in orchards,” Rothwell said. “Folks on the ridge (downstate) started seeing damage 30 days before they started trapping them.

“We haven’t sprayed very much for them yet because we haven’t trapped them — but if we don’t trap them, how do we know they’re there?”

More effective lures will be key moving forward, Rothwell said.

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