Not only is this year’s unpredictable weather causing strain on current harvests, but it could also affect future crops.
Oceana County apple and cherry grower Gerrit Herrygers is dealing with this very problem. And he’s not alone.
According to a July 2 report from Michigan State University Extension, recent weather conditions have been “perfect for disease development.”
“We have no shortage of disease symptoms showing up in apples, cherries and grapes,” wrote Nikki Rothwell and Emily Pochuba of MSU Extension. “Growers have been trying to be diligent about disease control, but conditions have favored rapid pathogen growth.”
According to Herrygers, specialty crop growers in Oceana County are doing what they can to counter three consecutive wetter-than-normal months, including spending more money on fungicides to prevent brown rot and leaf spot on their cherry crop.
“The mood and moral in Oceana County agriculture is very bleak and depressing,” said Herrygers, who farms tart cherries, apples and asparagus at the Hart-based Herrygers Farm LLC. “I have never seen farmers so depressed, and I don’t see that it can get better in 2019. It’s unfortunate, but we still have a few weeks left in the cherry crop.
“It’s losing the battle as far as monetarily.”
Herrygers said the unprecedented weather has caused increased crop infections for tart cherry. In turn, growers in the area are spending more money on fungicides in 2019 compared to the last several years — in some cases, 25 to 30 percent more than usual, he said.
“As far as the fruit crop compares to row crops, the weather could have a negative impact on the upcoming crop (years),” Herrygers said.
Similarly, MSU researchers say there are instances in Michigan with “very serious leaf spot infections where some of the trees will likely defoliate before the crop is ripe.” They note that brown rot also develops because of the current weather conditions.
“When cherry leaf spot is not controlled, trees will prematurely defoliate and their health can be adversely affected over the winter, which ultimately leads to lower yields the following year,” said Audrey Sebolt, horticulture specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau. “In a year when Michigan cherry growers are experiencing higher spray bills, concerns of financially breaking even are heightened.”
Herrygers’s cherry crop even experienced a significant June drop, which is where trees shed their insufficiently pollinated fruit.
“It’s all gone by the wayside,” he said. “Some varieties have lost 50 percent due to drop.”
“The weather — it’s hot and humid now — so the (sweet) cherries will get a fungus and then spread to other (fruit) which makes it unsaleable,” Herrygers added. “Whatever (fruit) is left on there is susceptible to brown rot. … All of this has caused growers to spend more money on fungicide applications. It’s money we will not recoup with the (cherry) market price for 2019.”
“Usually we can make up the difference with high yields, but we will have low yields (this year).”
That’s why Herrygers is now focusing on salvaging next year’s crop.
“This year, the last seven rain events have resulted into leaf spot, and it’s virtually impossible to get fungicide back on with the weather,” Herrygers said. “We are doing triage on fruit crops and deciding what is most important. It’s been frustrating. It’s a cost-prohibitive measure. For some, it’s a lost cause. Will we be able to get out of this mess?
“It’s a never-ending battle this year, and we just can’t get over the hump.”
Each week, the Michigan Farm News will cover a specialty crop affected by unfavorable weather conditions. Contact Mitch Galloway at [email protected] if you have a story to share.