- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Agriculture experts and area growers are taking a wait-and-see approach for this year’s fruit crops after an usually mild winter devoid of prolonged cold snaps or much in the way of snowfall.

So far, many of the crops seem to be doing well, but the experts and growers cautioned that though a hard freeze is not currently forecast, the possibility for one remains for at least another couple of weeks.

“We’ve been very fortunate so far this season,” Bruce Bordelon, a fruit specialist and professor of horticulture at Purdue University, said. “Any time we have a mild winter or an early spring it advances crop development to the point where they are more sensitive to the cold.”

Record-breaking warmth in February prompted folks at Purdue to begin taking notice, watching for signs of an early bloom with the fruit crops. South Bend, for instance, set a record for the warmest February with an average temperature of 37.3 degrees - 9.5 degrees above normal.

Those warm temperatures advanced many fruit crops by as much as three weeks in their development, Bordelon said. Then, a cold snap in March, slowed the development down again. The March dip had the potential to cause significant damage to the region’s fruit crops if the crops had been a week more advanced in their development, he said.



“For the most part, Indiana escaped that damage,” Bordelon said. “I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

Producers in southern states like South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, for instance, saw significant losses to peach crops after the March cool-down, Bordelon said.

William Shane, a tree fruit specialist with Michigan State University’s Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center, agreed that by and large this region is faring well considering the mild winter.

“The early warm-up in February and March had us concerned,” Shane said. “We had a cold event on March 14 that was tough on apricots, a minor crop in the area. The same cold spell was more severe on peaches and sweet cherries on farms away from the protection of Lake Michigan.”

Another dip in temperatures in early April, with temperatures that dropped into the mid-20s, also browned some fruit buds, but generally did not have a major impact, Shane said.

“Crop potentials for peach and sweet cherry orchards close to Lake Michigan look pretty good,” Shane said. “In general, the apple, tart cherry, grape, blueberry crops look good.”

Shane said now that crops have advanced in their development, temperatures in the 26- to 28-degree range could cause some damage to fruit crops. Any temperatures below that could cause significant damage, he said.

“So far we have dodged a bullet,” he said.

Maureen Kercher, owner of Kercher’s Sunrise Orchards Farm Market in Goshen, said they’ve had mixed results so far with their fruit crops. Her business primarily grows just two fruits - apples and peaches.

“So far, the apples are doing great,” she said. “We lost our peaches. The peaches couldn’t handle the cold snap we had back in December with subzero temperatures.”

Kercher said the apples are just going into bloom, which has her watching the forecast looking for any hint of trouble.

“I hope there’s no cold weather in our future,” she said. “Once the apples bloom 27 degrees is the point where we start losing part of the crop.”

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/2pXU5O2

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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