SPARTA, Mich. (WOOD) - Normally at this time of year, apple buds are green and growing. But the buds on apple trees in this area and across Michigan are dead, leading to likely the worst crop devastation in almost 70 years.
The record-setting high temperatures in March followed by really cold snaps and freezes -- especially the one last Friday -- killed the crops.
Apples, cherries, peaches and grapes all suffered a lot of damage, but the true extent won't be known for another week or 10 days.
It's bad economic news for the growers, but the devastation could mean billions of dollars lost throughout Michigan.
"This will have a major impact on the community, the economics of the community," said MSU Extension grower Philip Schwallier. "We don't have any storage, no packing, no trucking, no workers buying food in the store or gasoline -- that all will be gone. So it's a major impact to the state of Michigan."
Growers, 24 Hour News 8 learned, haven't seen this kind of crop devastation since 1945. In that year, Schwallier told 24 Hour News 8, only 5% of crops were salvaged.
In many places, 24 Hour News 8 learned, at least 75% of all Michigan tree fruits are likely already dead.
"It's depressing," Schwallier said. "Oftentimes, we diversify and one crop will come through, one crop might be hurt, so you get carried by the other crops. This year, it hurt them all."
Michigan Farm Bureau representative Ken Nye told 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday the agency is stepping up.
The plan is to go to individual farms, survey the damage and tell growers what their options are.
"[We will have] a lot of discussion with elected officials, and a lot of discussions with MSP extension to get information out into the field so growers know what to do so getting themselves qualified for any programs that might become available," said Nye.
Already the Farm Bureau is urging growers with crop insurance to contact their carriers. Many crops, like tart cherries, are not eligible for crop insurance. Those crops that are eligible, like apples where about 70% of the fruit is insured, do not cover 100% of the crop.
Both Nye and Schwallier stressed that just because the crops may be ruined, farmers still need to think about and maintain their trees and vines for next year's crop.
Nye said the Farm Bureau already has meetings scheduled with state law makers to discuss the crop problems and potential solutions. Nye said in the past, the state has issued 0% interest loans to farmers in need. The Farm Bureau hopes federal representatives and senators will tour Michigan farms to see the damage for themselves at the end of the month.
They're hoping to get help ideally from somewhere for this crop disaster. Nye said they hope to get federal help from the USDA and from the Michigan Department of Agriculture. Nye said if the USDA doesn't offer assistance, they may eventually go to agencies like FEMA.
"We're always optimistic about next year being a better year," Schwallier said. "It will be next year. It's definitely got to be a better year next year. It can't be any worse than this."
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