Growers report that conditions have been somewhat strange but mostly good in Michigan this spring, resulting in only slightly late starts.
John Bakker, executive director of the Dewitt-based Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, described the season as one of the most unusual he could remember.
“We got quite a bit of snow in April,” Bakker said May 29. “I think I still had a small pile of snow on the side of my house April 29 or 30, and 12 days later we were harvesting asparagus.”
Loren Buurma, partner in Buurma Farms in Gregory, Mich., made a similar observation about the weather.
“We really went from winter to summer,” Buurma said. “There really wasn’t much of a spring.”
Some producers noted they were a week or so behind because of the earlier cold weather.
“We’re about a week, 10 days later than normal due to a cool spring and some rainstorms that have come in between plantings and (such),” said Todd Van Solkema, CEO of Byron Center, Mich.-based Van Solkema Produce.
“We’ll probably start squash around the 20th of June. We’ll start cabbage right around the 20th of June. From cabbage we’ll get into seeing a little bit of early celery just after the Fourth of July, and then corn and cukes,” Van Solkema said.
The company expects to have Brussels sprouts around the middle to end of August.
“We are about a week behind on most items due to the cool spring weather and above-average amount of rain we received the past two months,” said sales manager Todd DeWaard.
Other growers said crops had mostly caught up thanks to a hot week at the end of May.
“We were running behind schedule — if we would have had this talk 10 days ago I would probably have given you start dates all at least a week later than what I did — but Mother Nature has a way of evening things out, and we’re starting to catch up,” Steve Haaksma, sales manager for Byron Center, Mich.-based E. Miedema & Sons, said the last week of May.
“We had hot days and hot nights and the crops are catching up, so we’re going to be pretty much right on schedule again.”
E. Miedema expects to start with green cabbage June 20-25. The next week the company plans to begin with bok choy, napa cabbage, zucchini and yellow squash. The sweet corn program will ideally start around July 18.
For most producers, the end of May was too soon to provide any specific volume and quality projections, but they reported the crops were progressing well.
“Crops that are established and rooted are really growing nicely,” said Fred Leitz Jr., partner in Sodus, Mich.-based Leitz Farms.
Leitz plans to start with cucumbers around June 22-25, blueberries around June 28-29, grape tomatoes around July 15 and romas and round tomatoes around July 25.
Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for Naturipe Farms, said the company expects to start harvesting Michigan blueberries the end of June or early July.
“As compared to last year, our production is about a week later, with peak production anticipated July 10 to Aug. 8,” Bocock said. “This is a perfect time for big Michigan blueberry ads.
“We have pretty good weather for pollination and good rainfall for berry development,” Bocock said. “(The) crop is shaping up well and should be an above-average crop with excellent quality and size.”
Another positive feature of this spring in Michigan has been a lack of a frost.
Bakker noted that aspect of the season could mean higher asparagus volume for the state.
“Maybe three out of every five years we have kind of a bad frost early in the season, takes maybe 5% to 10% of our total production,” Bakker said.
“We didn’t have that this year, and as a result I think we could be a little bit ahead of normal and ahead of last year.”
He explained May 29 that the hot weather at the end of the month accelerated the growth of asparagus a considerable amount.
“Most farmers are harvesting the same field twice a day, which is a little bit unusual for us,” Bakker said.
“It happens, but it just usually doesn’t happen day after day after day. The asparagus is growing as fast as I’ve ever seen it, and quality is great. It’s just super tender.”
Bakker said growers had been harvesting the same fields twice a day for probably six or seven days thanks to the sudden heat.
“We’ve been high 80s or 90s almost every day,” Bakker said.
“I think that we’ve set record highs two or three out of the last five days here.”
Those temperatures brought the crop on very quickly.
“Fortunately we were prepared,” Bakker said. “We thought it was going to be a week or 10 days late, turned out it was only like two days late.”
Sparta, Mich.-based Riveridge Produce Marketing plans to have sweet cherries the first week of July, prune plums beginning Aug. 10, and early varieties of apples also starting in August, according to operations manager Justin Finkler and account manager Trish Taylor.
They reported that spring weather has been cooperative, with plenty of rain and no stress in the orchard. They look forward to a clean crop, with no frost or scarring.