Local fruit farmers say weather has cost them most of their harvest

June 14, 2012

Quinn Ford

Flickr/Tony Bailey

Chicagoans who shop at local farmers markets might not be able to find certain fruit this summer.

Some fruit growers say unusally warm weather in March caused some fruit plants to bud early, and then frosts in April killed those buds. Ken Nye, a commodities specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau, said farmers in Michigan who grow apples, cherries and peaches have lost up to 90 percent of their crops.

"There's going to be fruit farmers here in the state and a lot of actual handlers and processors who won't really see any paycheck for the next 12 to 18 months," Nye said.

Nye said that has prompted farmers to ask state legislators to help provide low interest loans to get them through the year. He said they are also asking the federal government to help address problems with crop insurance. Currently, most farmers can only afford to cover 50 or 60 percent of their crops, according to Nye, and there is no crop insurance available for some fruits.

Nye said fruit growers in other states like Illinois, Wisconsin and New York have taken a hit, too.

Velma Downes runs "More Than Delicious Orchard" in Woodstock, Illinois with her husband. She said they lost 80 to 90 percent of their crop this year due to the weather.

"We're pretty sure right now that we won't be opening this fall for picking," Downes said. "There just isn't that much out there to pick, so it's going to be an off year for us."

Downes said she doesn't make her living off selling apples. She called it a "hobby that got out of hand." She said she hopes to make enough money each year from the hobby to pay her real estate taxes but said that won't happen this year.

Downes said she and her husband have taken their apples to farmers markets in past years but didn't plan to do so this year. She said that turned out to be a good decision.

"We wouldn't have had anything to take to the farmer's market this year," Downes said.

A spokeswoman for the Illinois Farmers Bureau said Illinois peaches were also heavily affected by this year's weather.