Great Lakes Echo» Blog Archive » Foggy future of Great Lakes climate puts pressure on Michigan cherry growers
There’s less ice on the Great Lakes, allowing for more evaporation and more lake-effect snow in cherry country. Farther north, Lake Superior has warmed five degrees since 1979.
More importantly for growers, cherry blossoms now appear seven to ten days earlier than they did three decades ago, leaving them susceptible to potentially devastating spring frosts.
...Spring frosts are the biggest threat to cherries, and the simulations suggest “the impact of frost is going to be a little worse, but not humongously so,” said Black.
While it’s far from certain that spring frosts will become more common in cherry country, even a hint that they might occur more frequently is worrisome for growers like James Nugent, who has worked on the project as an MSU horticulturist.
In 2002, after unseasonably warm April weather teased out cherry buds, an Alberta Clipper came howling across Lake Michigan, sending temperatures into the 20s and killing more than 99 percent of the crop.
“We couldn’t have made a cherry pie,” Nugent said.
The 2002 die-off “may have had nothing to do with climate change,” Black said, “but nonetheless, the growers were pretty anxious.” If the Pileus team could say with any certainty that a frostier future lies ahead, growers might invest in wind machines or other frost protection, or plant a hardier variety of cherry. They might switch to a different crop, or get out of farming altogether.