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'We may be losing our crop right now': What this weird weather means for cherry growers

Cherry trees at Cherry Bay Orchards in Suttons Bay. Photo: Emma Grant, Cherry Bay Orchards
Spring cherry blossoms in Suttons Bay. This week's fluctuating temperatures could wipe out portions of this year's cherry crop, but growers won't know until later in the season. (Photo: Emma Grant/Cherry Bay Orchards)
Temps in northern Michigan this week swung from record highs to below freezing.

One Frankfort cherry grower says that weather may have wiped out her crop, but she won't know until spring.

 After a cold weekend, temperatures are supposed to return to the low 60s by Sunday.

Farmers in northern Michigan are used to the whims of the weather.

But Frankfort cherry grower Cheryl Kobernik says this week — which saw record highs one day and freezing temperatures with snow the next — has been especially difficult.

“I don’t believe that I’ve seen it this mild in the 39 years that we’ve been farming,” she said.

Kobernik says she and her husband are usually gearing up for the spring at this time of year by ordering supplies, finishing up paperwork and pruning trees.

“So we [were] out in our trees [Tuesday] in t-shirts and [Wednesday] in snow suits,” she told IPR. “But [the trees] don’t care that the calendar says February instead of March. They just know it’s getting warm, 'so it’s time for me to swell. It’s time for me to get ready to become a blossom or a leaf.’”

But Kobernik says when those warm days are followed by moisture and then freezing temperatures, things can go south quickly.

“They will still make a blossom, but there won’t be any cherry in it,” she said. “So we can look like we have lots of blossoms – aka cherries – but really, they’re duds. They’re empty inside.”

She says she won’t know what the outcome is until later this spring, but she’s taking precautions anyway and will likely report the whiplash in weather to her crop insurer.

“We will report [Tuesday night] and [Wednesday night] potentially as being frost events that have taken our crop from us,” Kobernik said. “We may be losing our crop right now. I mean, I don’t know. You just don’t know.”

All the instability makes it difficult to plan for the season. She says she and her husband will have to make guesses as to how much crop they’ll have this summer, which affects how much they spend now on things like fuel and compost.

“It’s the old saying, ‘Don’t count your chickens till they’re hatched,’” she said. “You really don’t know until the cherries are actually little green cherries on the tree.”

But until that happens around May or June, Kobernik says, it’s a waiting game – with hopes for more forgiving weather.

Ellie Katz joined IPR in June 2023. She reports on science, conservation and the environment.