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Fruit trees are budding, Michigan farmers are worried about crops freezing

cherries on a tree
Michigan fruit farmers are trying to prevent crops from freezing after warm temperatures triggered early budding. (Shutterstock)
  • This winter was far from the treacherous season Michigan residents are used to 
  • The state experienced record-high temperatures in the middle of February, causing some dormant crops to wake up too early 
  • Now that temperatures have cooled, farmers are worried that their crops may freeze

Fruit farmers across the state are pulling out their frost fans and starting brush fires to protect crops that budded early from dying in a spring freeze. 

Fruit trees require consistent cold temperatures to remain dormant throughout the winter. But warm temperatures can signal the trees to “wake up” too early and they start to bud. This puts them at risk of freezing over when temperatures drop.


“We're at least three weeks ahead of where we should be,” said Charles Bristol, owner of Brookwood Fruit Farm in Almont, a village in Lapeer County. “The apples are starting to show a little bit of green tip on the leaves.” 


Bristol harvests apples, peaches, pears, tart cherries and sweet cherries. Last year, the weather caused damage to a significant amount of fruit early in the season, prompting Bristol to make a “big investment” in frost fans for this season. 

“Last year I lost some early stuff,” he said. “Had I had those frost fans I might have been able to have more tart cherries and really apples and peaches.” 

This past winter was a far cry from the frigid winters familiar to Michiganders. Record-breaking high temperatures in February, followed by colder temperatures in March, concern many fruit farmers. 

“The biggest problem for any fruit or nut grower is that the warm spells late in the winter or early in the spring trigger the plants to break dormancy too early,” said Dennis Strahle, president of the Michigan Nut and Fruit Growers Association.  

“Even though the leaves may get blasted by a frost, it typically does not kill the tree, but it does limit or eliminate the chance for fruits, nuts that year.”

In Michigan, fruit trees need an average of 1,000 chilling hours between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit before they wake up. Most of the state has had at least 1,200 chilling hours this winter. but trees in northern Michigan are trailing behind with just 1,000. 

“In some areas of the state there have been reports of some fruit budding early,” said Theresa Sisung, industry relations specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau. “When fruit begins to open too early in the year it makes it less resistant to cold temperatures and more susceptible to damage.”

If there is too much damage to the fruit crops and farmers produce very little or nothing at all, it could really impact their operation and Michigan’s economy. 

“There is typically at least some localized weather-related damage to fruit trees each year,” Sisung said. “The impacts on grocery store costs depend on several factors, including inflation, imports from other states or countries, transportation costs and others”  

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