Bitter winter means a less sweet summer for peaches

Kent County

ALPINE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Warm weather has many Michiganders looking forward to the fresh fruit and vegetables that will be coming to farm stands and markets.

When it comes to summer fruit, Michigan’s so juicy-you-have-to-eat-them-over-the-sink peaches are the envy of the nation.

But the bitter cold that gripped the state this winter and spring has resulted in major damage to a favorite crop – peaches.

For this summer and the foreseeable future, those peaches will be hard to find and expensive when they are found.

Todd Quick runs Peach Ridge Farms in Alpine Township, which has operated for almost 20 years. He runs it alone after his father and partner, Richard, died in July.

This time of year, he should be getting ready for the peach harvest, which will happen in the next three or four weeks.

Instead, he is using his well-used farm tractor to pull the trees from the earth.

“It’s tragic,” Quick said as he grabbed at the dying or dead leaves on one of his damaged peach trees. “They’re just crisp. They’re just drying right up.”

He believes he has lost 500 trees, about a quarter of his entire peach crop.

“What happened is it froze, you can see right here where it froze right there, and exploded. It blew the bark right off the tree,” Quick says as he points at a section of the tree where the bark of peeled off like an exploded balloon.

He is not alone.

Michigan State University Extension says the polar vortex on Jan. 31 wreaked havoc on the state’s fresh market peach crop, especially southwest of Allegan County.

“Two-thirds of the fresh market peach crop is gone,” said Bill Shane, a tree fruit extension specialist for MSU.

He says Michigan’s peach crop does not come close to other crops like apples and blueberries.

But the state’s fresh market peaches are considered high quality with a short shelf-life that draws people from neighboring states.

“It’s more than just a bad crop, the trees are even actually dead. It’s going to be a couple of years before there’s any fruit back on this hill here at all,” Quick said. “I never have seen it this bad.”

Quick said he will be selling the wood from the trees to people who use the sweet-smelling smoke to treat meat and fish. However, those sales will not come close to making up his loss.

For many of the farmers in the southwest corner of the state, the damage is believed to have come from the polar vortex.

The below zero temperatures damaged trees or weakened them. That means another harsh winter could kill them.

The Grand Rapids area, which grows about one-fourth of the fresh market peaches that are sold at fruit stands and farm markets, was not as cold as the areas south of Allegan County.

But Quick says his low-lying property north of Four Mile Road NW was apparently susceptible to the bitter cold.

Asked what he believes will happen to the price of peaches, Quick says “I think it’s going to go nuts. – if I’m any indication as to how much damage there is.”

Shane agrees.

“For farm stands, the prices will be higher and some people might not have them,” he said.

And the peach shortage will likely continue for a few years to come as demand for young trees to replace the dead trees could make it tough.

Quick says while he is heartbroken to see the peach trees destroyed, he will still have plenty of fruit and produce to offer once his stand opens after July 4.

“There’s a lot of reason to continue going to farm stands in Michigan and look for Michigan produce,” Shane said.

But he says for people who are looking to go to their local stand or farm market to get peaches this summer, it’s probably a good idea to call ahead to make sure they will be in stock.

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