- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Three rounds of severe storms carrying strong winds and hail caused damage over the weekend to crops in northern Michigan near Traverse City.

MLive.com reports that apple, cherry and grape crops were hit hard by the storms the Leelanau Peninsula, Old Mission Peninsula and the fruit belt near Elk Rapids on Sunday. Winds of up to 100 mph passed through the region, shredding leaves, ripping off bark and downing trees and trellises. Some fruit was blown off of the branches or punctured by hail.

“It’s just heartbreaking to see it happen this late in the season,” said Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center in Leelanau County. “They’ve already put so much time and energy and love in getting the crop where it is. To see it lost now is just heartbreaking.”

Although the weather damage was widespread, severity varied by location.

Brian Altonen of Altonen’s Orchards owns two orchards in Antrim County. The company’s orchard in Kewadin saw little damage, he told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. But damage at the other orchard a few miles south in Elk River was extensive, he said.

“It was an unbelievable scene right here when it came through,” Altonen said, referring to his southern orchard. “Just flying limbs, a few of the trees got uprooted, two of my trellises blew over and took (out) whole rows.”

He estimates that the storm caused him to lose 20 to 25 percent of his apple crop. But some of the other fruit wasn’t affected because Altonen finished harvesting his cherries last week and his pears haven’t softened yet.

Most cherry farmers had already finished picking fruit, but others had nearly a week of harvesting left when the storm hit, Rothwell said.

About half of the grapes at Michigan State University Extension’s research center are in bad shape, said small fruit educator Erwin “Duke” Elsner.

“In the grapes, we have a tremendous amount of hail damage here,” he said. “It’s going to be one of those things that’s really spotty. It’s going to take a while to assess the level of damage.”

Rothwell also wasn’t able to provide a dollar estimate of the damage. But she’s encouraging farmers to prevent further damage and spray for fire blight, a bacterial disease that infects trees and ruins fruit, because trees wounded by hail are especially susceptible.

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