Mother Nature is beautiful…and devastating. As Ned Totzke walked through his family’s Baroda vineyard Wednesday morning, he pointed out numerous grape buds zapped by freezing temperatures.
“This one’s gone, this one’s gone. These are gone,” he said as he ripped dead buds from their branches. “These are late buds, and they’ve even gone.”
Totzke estimated about 50 percent of his Niagra and Concord grape crop sustained damage from several recent frosts and freezes.
While most of us enjoyed those balmy 80-degree days last month, local farmers started to worry because their vineyards and orchards began budding too soon.
Since 1928, the earliest the Totzke family’s 900 acre vineyard ever budded was April 11. But this year, bright green buds popped out three weeks early.
“These that have been singed hard on the outside may never keep a bunch. They may never grow and be able to keep fruit on them,” Totzke explained. “We've seen that many times before where they're damaged considerably but not quite dead. They'll continue to grow but not hang fruit.”
His grapes are used to make Welch’s juice and jelly. But damage is spotty throughout southwest Michigan and experts say it’s a bit early to know how it might affect grocery store prices.
“Grapes are sourced from many parts of the United States. So I think that's maybe a little bit of a stretch to try and make any predictions,” said Diane Brown, Berrien County – MSU Extension commercial horticulture educator.
The National Grape Cooperative is gathering data from southwest Michigan to try and assess the damage from the cold temperatures. But fruit farmers know they are still at Mother Nature’s mercy for a few more weeks. Frosts and hard freezes are common through the middle of May.
As for Totzke, he refuses to dwell on what he’s lost.
“We have to move forward,” he said.