GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - While some fruit farmers tried to save their crops from frost with huge fans, the May Farm made its own cloud of smoke to combat the cold temperatures.
Faced with an orchard-threatening freeze warning, Joe and John May spent the day Monday setting up rounds of hay along the perimeter of the family's apple orchard on Fruit Ridge Avenue near 10 mile Road NW.
And, when temperature dipped to about 30 degrees overnight they set the hay on fire. Their plan was to have the smoke from the smoldering hay provide a blanket of heat to save their apples.
"It's your life; it's your livelihood. So, you know, if you don't have apples, how are you going to put food on the table?" Joe May said. "So, you've got to do what you've got to do, I guess."
--Above: Storm Team 8's Kyle Underwood explains why fans and fire likely won't save the apple crop.--
The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning for Monday night. Temperatures that could dip into the mid- to upper 20s in some places.
That's a huge contrast to record-setting heat that has orchards blooming more than a month ahead of schedule.
"My grandpa's going to be 92 in November and he's never ever had a spring like this," Joe May said.
Cherry trees are white with blossoms on the Ridge in northwest Kent County. Apple blossoms are just pushing out with pink. And at places like Robinette's in Plainfield Township, cherry, nectarine and peach trees are in full bloom.
The MSU Extension office says temperatures as low as 24 degrees could kill 90% of the apple crop, and at 25 degrees could kill 90% of sweet cherries. Storm Team 8 said temperatures that cold are not likely.
The stakes are big. In Michigan, the apple crop alone is worth more than $120 million. A lost crop would be felt far beyond these farms.
-- Michigan Department of Agriculture figures on the apple industry (pdf) --
"It's going to trickle down," May said. "If we don't have apples to pick, then the packing center won't have apples to pack, and the equipment dealers are not going to be buying equipment, so it's a trickle-down effect."
At Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery in Plainfield Township, lost crops could mean a fall without fruit to sell to the thousands of customers.
"In my almost 85 years, I don't remember when we lost a crop of apples," James Robinette said. "We've never seen a bloom this early."
If he loses his crops, he would try to get fruit from other area farms.
"But, if it's bad enough, it could affect everybody around here," Robinette said.
On Tuesday, he and many other fruit farmers will be checking trees for damage, but experts say damage might not be noticeable until later in the week.
"It means fruit growers are gamblers, doesn't it?" Robinette said.
Blog: Rebecca Finneran of the MSU Extension -- which plants are most a risk because of the freeze.
24 Hour News 8's Tom Hillen contributed to this report.
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