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Northern Michigan farmers wary as freezes and thaws could threaten crops

TRAVERSE CITY — Some fruit farmers in Traverse City said the recent warm-up, followed by cooler weather is a concerning trend.

Fruit farmer Isaiah Wunsch of Wunsch Farms said so far they’ve been lucky with no impact on their cherry crops but they aren’t out of the woods yet.

“It’s so much warmer than a normal year that we are concerned about,” said Wunsch.

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A warm-up for an extended period in late February or early March might trick the trees into thinking it’s spring.

If they bloom and are exposed to late season frost, they could lose their crop.

“As long as the current forecast calls for a dip in temperature back into the forties or thirties, and that should just keep the trees coasting along for the next few weeks,” said Wunsch.

He said he does remember a time when their crops were decimated by warm weather back in 2012 when they had temps in the 80′s in mid-March.

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“It really accelerated the break of dormancy, which is when the trees are waking back up in the spring, it caused the trees to bloom. And then we actually had a snowstorm while the trees were in bloom. So we had a really small crop that year,” said Wunsch.

Wunsch said he also grows apples. It gives workers a longer employment window having multiple harvests and in case they have a bad season for one of their crops.

“It provides basically an insurance policy for us because a weather event that is really catastrophic for apples might come after the cherries are harvested or likewise a weather event that damages the cherries might not have any real measurable impact for apples,” said Wunsch.

He also said he’s adapted to the warmer winters by picking more climate resilient types.

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“So we’re planting orchards that have ripening times at different points during the summer and we’re planting varieties that can handle a little bit more heat during the winter without blooming,” said Wunsch.

On the other side of town, Edgecomb’s Farm Market grows sweet corn and pumpkins.

The owner, Brent Edgecomb, said they aren’t being impacted at all because their growing season hasn’t started yet but bugs that infest their crops might survive the warmer temperatures.

“We just have to work harder come the growing season to fight those off, possibly more insecticides because the bug damage might be heavier on some crops. Diseases and pathogens. You just kind of got to keep an eye out for those,” said Edgecomb.

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