Fruit growers turn on the heat to save the season

A West Michigan fruit ridge grower says this past week’s hard freeze is only the beginning of their seasonal battle with Mother Nature.

“You’re never out of the woods until you put the fruit in the box and it goes to the consumer.”

Fifth-generation apple and sweet cherry grower Fred Rasch tells Brownfield trees were about two to three weeks ahead of normal for the season before a blast of arctic air brought freezing temps and threatened this year’s crop.

“Every one to two degrees can make a crop or lose a crop,” he shares.

The Sparta area grower lights campfires throughout his orchards, manages a range of wind machines to move air, and uses nutrients to battle cold spells.

“You try to build your fires so Mother Nature and the wind push that warmer air through the orchard and then the fans inside the orchard will stir it around and keep air movement,” he explains.

Rasch says his fruit hasn’t entered bloom yet which is when it is most susceptible to damage, but all season storms, hail damage, or even heat can also threaten the production and quality of the fruit.

“Number one, you pray about it,” he says.

Rasch says during devastating freezes in 2012, only a third of his crop survived and those orchards had wind machines.  Now they’re sprinkled strategically across the farm to defend against the changing climate.

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