Early asparagus crop lost, cherry crop likely damaged by cold weather

The overnight freeze damaged west Michigan fruit and vegetable crops.

HART, MICH. - Michigan's agriculture industry puts more than $100 billion dollars into the state's economy every year. According to state figures, fruit and vegetable crops contribute more than $1.4 billion annually.

In Oceana County, the temperature dropped below freezing for five hours very early Monday, May 8.

Several weather stations across the county reported a low temperature of 25 degrees around 6 a.m. 

The cold was so devastating -- all the early asparagus crop is ruined.

Earlier: Frost threatens crops across West Michigan

"As I look through this everything that I am seeing is gone," said John Bakker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board.

Bakker reviewed damage to an asparagus field just north of Hart.

"Spears have this translucent look to them," Bakker said.

Normally spear would snap off if bent over. The spears Bakker tested tipped right over and did not snap.

About 65 percent of the state's asparagus is grown in Oceana County. This week, farmers will mow down the damaged crop. A few days from now, new spears will grow.

"We will have more spears coming up over the next six to seven weeks, and we'll harvest those," Bakker said. We will still get about 90 percent of a crop."

It's estimated about 2 million pounds of Michigan asparagus was lost. 

At the VanAgtmael and Sons farm east of Hart, the temperature dropped to 25 degrees overnight.

"This one was devastating," Mike VanAgtmael. VanAgtmael lost 110 acres of asparagus, and he's concerned now about 170 acres of cherry trees that are just slightly past full bloom.

It's a crucial time for the trees. There's visible damage to the blossoms. Historical data has VanAgtmael expecting major crop loss.

"With the old scale 25 degrees in bloom would have the potential to put us at 90 percent crop loss," said VanAgtmael.

Frost fans helped to bring it up the temperature in VanAgtmael's apple orchards about two degrees.

Tonight, the fruit trees will again be tested by cold temperatures. The National Weather Service again has issued a freeze warning for the threat.

"We will need a little bit of time to assess the damage," VanAgtmael said.

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