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Fruit losses hit close to home

September 19, 2012 - With fall around the corner, residents are looking forward to enjoying a cup of cider from their favorite local orchard, but the apples may not have the usual homegrown flavor.

That's because the early March warmth and the late April frost caused crop losses for many Michigan fruit farmers. As Raymond Porter, owner of Porter's Orchard in Goodrich put it: the weather "wiped us out in this region."

Porter's Orchard, established in 1921, lost 100 percent of their apple crop, and the owner said the whole state only produced 10 percent of its usual crop. "It's the worst I've seen it statewide," Porter said.

To recover losses and meet the needs of his customers, Porter has purchased apples from Grand Rapids, a tactic nearby Ashton Orchards has also had to implement.

Owner Dennis Ashton said people shouldn't expect to see many local pears, peaches, apples, plums or cherries this year. He'll never forget checking the temperature on the morning of April 29 and seeing 20.8 degrees. His trees were in bloom, but "everything was just brown," he said.

From one row of Gala apple trees, Ashton would get ten bins full of fruit in a typical year. This season, he's only able to fill half a bin from one row. While some of his fruit trees bloomed after the frost, the fruit was small in comparison to its usual size.

Asthon said he's lost 95 percent of the apple crop, and 100 percent of peaches, pears, and plums. Although he says the price is "astronomically high," Ashton has been purchasing apples from Grand Rapids to make cider, doughnuts, and pies to sell. He drives 154 miles, sometimes twice a week, to pick up large bins of apples and transport them to his store in Ortonville.

"It's terrible. I hate to do it," Ashton said. Although fruit crops faired better in Washington and Pennsylvania, he won't buy apples from out of state.

Ashton can't remember a worse year in his experience, but Raymond Porter says he's noticed this premature blossoming on the increase.

"This is the third year in the last six years that this has happened" whereas, early buds damaged due to frost only occurred every ten years or so, Porter explained.

Even though "it's hard to deal with," Porter says, "we're doing fine. We know next year it'll be different. We just keep moving forward."

Clarkston News reporter
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