2012 has been one of the hardest years for local growers

By Kelli Ameling • Last Updated 11:07 am on Monday, July 09, 2012

Although some damage was done to this cherry tree at Watts’ Orchards in Howard City, it was the frost in early spring that took fruit from the tree, leaving owners Wayne, above, and Bruce Watts without any crops to harvest. — Daily News/Kelli Ameling

Between the unusual warm winter, a freeze and now a record-setting heatwave in Montcalm County, this year has been a struggle for local growers and possibly one of the worst years in history.

“It’s devastating to us,” summarized Wayne Watts, who owns Watts’ Orchards in Howard City along with his son, Bruce Watts.

Fruit crops

Watts’ Orchards lost almost 100 percent of its fruit crop in Howard City this year due to the freeze in early spring.

Some of their crops did survive at a second location between Gowen and Trufant.

Wayne Watts, who owns Watts’ Orchards in Howard City with his son Bruce Watts, was shocked to see these two cherries on one of his cherry trees. They are the only cherries on the farm that survived through the frost and withstood the excessive heat and drought this summer.

Wayne Watts said, like most farmers, he has crop insurance, but after paying the bills and for chemicals to continue to protect the trees for the next year, it’s not enough.

“We don’t break even,” he said.

Wayne and Bruce Watts have owned the farm for more than three decades, growing whatever is in season — from apples and cherries to pears and plums.

“This is the worst one,” Bruce Watts said of his years farming.

Steve Klackle, owner of Klackle Orchards & Pavilion in Greenville, said because of the freeze he had a small crop of apples this year. For that reason, he has not had to worry too much about the extreme heat and low amounts of rain.

“Usually we are more concerned with the lack of moisture and heat stress on the trees,” he said. “But not this year.”

H&W Farms co-owner George Wright said his orchard in Belding needs rain to maintain the crops he does have.

Like Klackle Orchards, Wright said he too does not have the crop he is used to having at this time because of the freeze earlier this year. He is able to use irrigation on most of his farm, especially the more mature trees. However, he is concerned for the younger trees that are still striving to grow.

The main problem is farmers are dealing with temperatures around or above 100 degrees, said Wright, when most farms are used to dealing with 80 degree temperatures at this time.

“We really need rain,” he said.

Some farmers, like himself, have field crops to fall back on when frost damages fruit crops. However, with the excessive heat and drought, Wright said even field crops might not be able to save farmers.

Field crops

Although Montcalm County farmers need rain for their crops, a severe storm that hit most of the county last Thursday morning was not ideal, leaving damaged crops and flooded fields in some areas.

Belding’s H&W Farms co-owner George Wright said he is not as concerned for soybeans as he is for the rest of his crops, because soybeans are deeper-rooted and can survive a little longer in extreme heat and drought. — Daily News/Kelli Ameling

Fred Springborn, a field crops educator for Michigan State University Extension in Stanton, said the storm gave about an eighth of an inch of rain to local farmers.

“It won’t last long,” said Springborn, noting that if a person were to dig a hole, the soil would be dust under a thin amount of moist soil.

In order to keep crops, and not have the risk of lost and damaged crops, Springborn said it would have to rain regularly for the rest of the season.

Springborn said he recently read an article about the current drought boosting corn prices. He said Montcalm County is right on the line for having damaged crops.

Just north of Montcalm County, Springborn said farmers are experiencing a severe time with no water and excessive heat, while just south of Montcalm County, farmers already have damage.

With pollination just about to take place for corn, it crucial the crops receive water. Alan Sackett, one of three partners at Sackett Potatoes, said the corn at his farm is doing good at this moment, but he agreed with Springborn that the pollination period is the most critical. He noted the Greenville farm has had less rain than the other Sackett farms.

Corn likes the excessive heat as long as there is enough water to support it, Sackett said. However, potatoes do not like it as much.

“(The weather) is definitely hurting the potato crops,” Sackett said.

Sackett noted the weather is really taking a toll on farmers who do not use irrigation systems.

Wright said if farmers could receive rain in the next three or four days with regular rain following, the crops might be saved. But, according to local weather forecasts, the chance of rain is minimal.

“We will work through it,” said Wright, noting similar weather in 1988 when corn really suffered from heat and drought. “A bad year could get worse.”

What’s next?

“They will bloom again,” said Bruce Watts with confidence of his fruit crops coming back next year. “In the meantime, we just have to wait.”

While waiting, Bruce and Wayne Watts said they are working hard to make sure the trees are protected for coming years so they do bloom.

Wayne Watts said a lot of money will be spent pruning new growth on the trees because nutrients are going to the new parts of the trees instead of the blooms.

More time will be spent watering crops and making sure trees stay hydrated through the heat and drought.
Wayne Watts said farmers are not the only ones suffering from heat and drought —the whole farming industry is being affected. He said everything from farmers to shipping stations will see the effects of weather on the crops.

“Even the people at the store,” Wayne Watts said.

Alan Sackett, one of three partners at Sackett Potatoes, said the coming weeks are crucial for corn to receive rain because now is prime time for pollination. — Daily News/Kelli Ameling

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