On Thursday August 16, 2012, the PBS Newshour reported that it was a A Sour Season for Michigan's Cherry Farmers.
Northwestern Michigan is considered by many an ideal place for growing fruit. Located on the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole, the surrounding Great Lakes and rolling hills help create a temperate climate.
But as Pat McGuire walks through his orchards now, they are a haunting green. This year, nature harvested the trees.
Cherry trees remain dormant throughout winter until a spring warming wakes them up. That happened much earlier this year. Temperatures in March shattered records across the country, reaching the mid-80’s in Michigan that month - that’s nearly 14 degrees Fahrenheit above the state average. That pushed the trees to a development stage about 5.5 weeks ahead of normal, Jim Nugent said.
And when temperatures dropped again, the trees’ early buds were vulnerable. From late March through May, there were 15 to 20 nights in which temperatures fell below freezing. Farmers tried using wind fans to keep warm air circulating around the fruit trees, but it was little help.
The cold snaps killed not only cherries, but also juice grapes, peaches, and apples. Losses across the state are estimated at $210 million.
As the Earth warms, extreme weather events become more frequent. The March heat wave was one such event. Most of us "weathered" the unseasonal warmth and moved on, but it was devastating for fruit farmers in Northwestern Michigan.
The McGuires are trying to stay positive and focusing on selling cherry products from past seasons to get through this one. “We try to constantly think creatively about how we can do things differently to reduce costs. That’s been our strategy since we got started, but this year it’s become more important,” Sara said.
Pat admits that they haven’t ruled out putting the ‘Out of Business’ sign on the door. They knew when they started that farming was a risky business, but the odds of crop loss feel stacked against them now, he said.
“What if we don’t have fruit next year?“ Pat said. “How do you plan for that?”
Good question, Pat. How do you plan for that? And the obvious answer is: you don't.
Farming is a risky business. And now it's riskier than ever before.