While some warm days at the beginning of June had Michigan growers’ hopes up, May was spent battling wet fields to get crops in the ground in time for spring and summer harvest. Many in the industry project harvest dates a week or two behind normal and supply gaps that echo days and weeks when workers couldn’t get into the fields to plant.
“The biggest problem is it has been too wet to lay plastic and fumigate,” said Russell Costanza, owner of Russell Costanza Farms, Sodus, Mich. “But it doesn’t take long to catch up. Have we gotten critical yet? No, at least not here.”
The five weeks leading up to the Fourth of July is the critical time for growing, so if the weather stays warm as it has the first week of June, growers may be able to catch up, said Gene Talsma, president of Crispheart Produce Inc., Hudsonville, Mich. Crispheart grows and markets celery and celery hearts and distributes a full line of Michigan vegetables.
E. Miedema & Sons Inc., Byron Center, Mich., acquired some new acreage this season for sweet corn, but because of the weather won’t be able to plant it all.
“It was so wet and cold in April, the wettest spring since I started farming in the early ’70s, so it’s just been totally unusual,” said Dave Miedema, president.
Miedema said the company is on track with cabbage because of the way it’s planted, but is behind on squash and sweet corn.
“We usually start (sweet corn) July 20, but that’s not going to happen this year,” Miedema said.
Michigan isn’t the only state having trouble with sweet corn, Miedema said. Weather patterns in most corn-growing states will likely leave the industry short on the commodity through most of the summer, which should keep markets strong, Miedema predicted.
Todd Miedema, marketing director and principal in Miedema Produce Inc., Hudsonville, Mich., said the weather problems are happening across the Midwest.
“Most of growers are right on the edge,” Todd Miedema said May 31. “If we get some hard rains, we’re going to suffer some product loss. The spring has been very late, very wet and cold, but we finally got some heat units going here this weekend.”
Todd Miedema said every grower has its go-to places on the farm, land that can be used when most of the ground is too wet. This year, everyone has exhausted that land and is still running into issues planting the rest of their crops.
“When you’re not getting enough of your product in the field in a timely fashion, it’s going to lead to product shortages later on,” Todd Miedema said.
Bruce Heeren, vice president of Belding, Mich.-based Michigan Fresh Marketing, said his company did have to change fields because of wet conditions, but had all of its early production planted within a few days of normal. Heeren expects cucumbers to come off about June 20, and tomatoes by July 20, all within normal range.
The earliest spring crop out of Michigan, asparagus, is facing an even shorter window this year because of weather.
“What is usually an eight-week deal is more like a five- to six-week deal,” Todd Miedema said.
Talbert Nething, general manager of Byron Center, Mich.-based Hearty Fresh, said the cold weather also affected sizing, as asparagus tends to get larger around instead of growing tall when temperatures are too low.
Costanza said his investment in tile water control over the last few years is what’s keeping him in business this year. For growers without extensive drainage, this spring was likely debilitating.
“It’s going to get interesting,” Costanza said. “A lot of these farms aren’t set up to handle this.”
Over on the eastern side of the state, Mike Pirrone Produce Inc., Mussey, is gearing up to be just about a week behind schedule on some of its commodities. Joe Pirrone, president, said they’ve spent the spring fighting the weather to get things planted, but that quality won’t suffer.
“There are a lot of people on marginal ground that isn’t tiled,” Pirrone said. “We have had to fight some of the issues, but have it a lot better than some of the people around.”
Todd Miedema said even with tiling, fields are in a constant state of wet.
“It’s absolutely saving your bacon right now,” Todd Miedema said.
Though many would classify Michigan’s spring weather as cold and wet, Pirrone said it was actually a warm spring, as temperatures have stayed moderate with lower-than-usual highs and higher-than-usual lows.
Pirrone expected to have cabbage the last week of June, along with zucchini and yellow squash, followed by cucumbers the first week of July and peppers by the last week of July.
For marketer Superior Sales, Hudsonville, Mich., most items are going to be up to two weeks late, said Todd DeWaard, sales manager. DeWaard expected green cabbage to start by mid- to late June, which is normal, but other Michigan leaf items to be two weeks late, coming off at the end of June.
“Other than that it’s just too early to tell,” DeWaard said June 1.
He said bell peppers should be on time, but cucumbers and zucchini and yellow squash are behind a week or two.
Fred Leitz, principal in Leitz Farms LLC, Sodus, Mich., said his tomatoes and cucumbers should be about 10 days late this season. The company also grows cantaloupe, strawberries and a few fall apples, which it markets through other packing sheds.
For Costanza Farms, the early season crops were planted as of late May, but the midseason tomatoes weren’t in the ground yet because of the rain. Costanza said he expected to harvest cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash by the 22nd of June, just a couple days later than normal. He said he hopes to have moved on to late season planting by mid-June.
Todd Miedema said the first commodity coming out of the Miedema Produce fields is radishes but the company was a week to 10 days behind.
“People are packing new crop radishes, but we are not going to be packing until June 7,” Todd Miedema said May 31.
Turnips should be available mid-June, with lettuces coming off around the beginning of July — all a week late — Miedema said.
Jerry Van Solkema, owner of Van Solkema Produce Inc., Byron Center, Mich., was harvesting radishes by the first week of June, and expected a good supply if the weather cooperated.
Hearty Fresh, which acts as a marketing agent for the full line of Michigan vegetables but also grows its own celery, onions, sweet corn and pumpkins, should start harvesting with celery by July 4, Nething said.
“Everyone is behind on their transplants, and as it gets later and later, growers are faced with a tough decision about how much to put in,” Nething said.
Dave Miedema said he expects to harvest cabbage and summer squash by the latter half of June, and for sweet corn he said he hopes it will be in July. Fall squash was set to harvest around Aug. 1.
Pirrone said he expected there to be some spottiness in the corn supplies this summer.
“We do a lot of corn, and the planting schedule has been interrupted a little bit,” Pirrone said. “I think we’ll have plenty of sweet corn for August, but July should be a pretty active market.”
On a positive note, Michigan growers and marketers are expecting strong markets throughout the spring, summer and into the fall for their vegetables.