Winter temperature flip-flop has fruit crops primed, but plenty of cold still on the way

    After the weather rolls through some unusual cycles in this winter season, fruit crops in the state of Michigan have become primed for growth a bit earlier than normal. They'll be ready to grow as soon as temperatures reach the mid 40s to low 50s. (WWMT/Randi Burns)

    From a cold and snowy November to a mild December, the early winter season in West Michigan was a bit unusual. Then, the cold temperatures returned in January, along with snow.

    The flip flop has West Michigan fruit growers focused on what comes next.

    "Most of the crops we grow here in West Michigan can handle temperatures down to 10 degrees without a problem," said Mark Longstroth, a small fruit educator with Michigan State University.

    The fruit crops most susceptible to the cold are wine grapes, peaches and blueberries.

    "When temperatures get below zero, growers start to worry," Longstroth said. "If it gets to minus 10 or minus 15 degrees, then we know there will be damage in those three crops."

    Temperatures have yet to reach that cold, but cooler air will move in next week.

    "Plants have the ability, if it's cold, to acclimate to a colder temperatures," Longstroth said. "So the fact we are going to be cold this week is good because it will make the plants get ready for even colder temperatures. If we were up in the 50s and then it was going to go down into the single digits, then we would worry."

    What about the warmer-than-average December? How did that affect the crops?

    Well, crops go through a period of chilling requirements, or rest, before they are ready for the new growing season. West Michigan crops tend to require 800 to 1,300 hours of temperatures between 35 degrees and 45 degrees to determine when winter is over, and when it will be time to move as temperatures warm up in the spring.

    Chilling requirements are usually met about midway through January, but because of the November cold and the mild temperatures in December, roughly 1,000 crops have met those requirements already. As soon as the temperatures reach the mid 40s to low 50s, those plants will kick into gear.

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