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Fruit growers cut their losses after hail storm

Nikki Rothwell

Last Friday’s hail storm left some fruit growers with severely damaged trees. Apples and cherries took a beating in parts of Leelanau and Antrim counties.

Nikki Rothwell, coordinator at Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center, visited orchards on Monday to assess the damage.

"The hail damage really made a lot of marks on the apples," Rothwell says. "So there’s a lot of bruising, but then I do see some areas where the flesh is actually torn."

Honeycrisp and Sweet Tango apples took a hit at Cherry Bay Orchards in Suttons Bay, says Francis Otto, the orchard production manager.

"My high value, fresh market apples are just a total loss," says Otto. "We’ll probably go through and actually pick the apples off now to try and let the tree regenerate."

He says they’ll leave the apples on the ground and hope for a better crop next year.

About 350 acres of tart cherries were also severely damaged, Otto says. He says these losses won’t just cost Cherry Bay Orchards money, it will cost harvesters jobs.

Nikki Rothwell says growers won't sell damaged apples and cherries as fresh produce anymore, but they could possibly sell them to juicers or processors for less money. Other growers, like Otto, might abandon ruined crops.

Rothwell says they don’t yet know the full extent of damage across the region. Growers in Manistee and Benzie Counties and on the Old Mission Peninsula did not get hit.