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Freeze damages grape juice crop

Published April 19, 2012 11:30 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

An April freeze damaged grape crops from Michigan to New York that last year supplied about two-thirds of the U.S. fruit used to make non-alcoholic grape juice, government and industry officials said.

About 90 percent of juice-grape crops were damaged in Michigan, the third-largest U.S. grower, and as much as 50 percent were hurt in New York, the No. 2 producer, and in Pennsylvania and Ohio, said Rich Erdle, the director of member relations for the National Grape Cooperative Inc., the owners of Welch's juices and jellies. Cold weather destroyed the primary buds on plants, and secondary buds will produce 35 percent of normal output, Erdle said.

Apples, grapes and cherries were the hardest hit when temperatures fell below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius) from April 6 to April 14 across the Midwest, especially in Michigan, said Dennis Todey, South Dakota's climatologist, who led a media briefing by telephone for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The cold spell followed unusually warm weather in March that led to an early start to growing season.

"Cold temperatures April 12 and April 13 caused significant damage to the grape crops," Erdle said in a telephone interview from the Westfield, N.Y., headquarters of the 1,050-member cooperative, which has growers in five states and in Ontario, Canada. "We will know more about the viability of secondary buds after the second week of May."

Top Producers

Michigan produced 85,500 tons of grapes processed into juice and jellies last year, or 18 percent of the total U.S. supply, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. Output was more than double the 31,100 tons collected in 2010, when cold weather damaged crops. Washington was the largest grower at 174,000 tons, or 37 percent of the total, followed by New York at 131,000, or 28 percent, according to the USDA.

"Cold weather did not hurt grapes in Washington," National Grape Cooperative's Erdle said. "Crops in Washington are about five days behind normal development and just started to bud this week."

Native varieties of grapes have been cultivated commercially in Michigan for more than a century. Farmers in the National Grape Cooperative grow about 8,000 acres of Concord grapes and 3,000 acres of Niagara, the white grape, in Michigan, Erdle said.

Wine, Wheat

Most grapes grown for wine production begin developing later than juice grapes and were not hurt by the freezing temperatures, said Linda Jones, the executive director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council. The wine and grape industry generated about $800 million in tourism for Michigan in 2005, the most recent data available, Jones said. April is Michigan wine month, when many wineries begin uncorking the prior year's production.

Freezing temperatures also may have damaged wheat crops across the Midwest and northern Great Plains, according to Todey, the South Dakota State professor. The condition of the winter-wheat crop from Arkansas to Ohio fell during the week ended April 15, the USDA said in a report earlier this week.

"Most of the upper Great Plains and Midwest is a month ahead, which sets us up for what we saw in the first part of April," Todey said. "They are acting like it is early May, not early April."

March was the warmest since 1895 in the continuous U.S. with an average temperature of 51.1 degrees, or 8.6 degrees above the 20th century average, according to NOAA. At least 15,292 daily high-temperature records were set or tied last month in the U.S.

Perennial crops, including fruit trees and vines that are not seeded every spring and grow on their own, have suffered the most damage because they start blooming when the temperatures rise.

Todey said annual crops that are planted at the start of each season, such as corn, didn't suffer much damage because crop insurance limits how early farmers can plant. Insurers usually don't permit crops to be sown before the average date of the region's last seasonal freeze. Still, corn planting was 17 percent completed as of April 15, up from an average of 5 percent in the previous five years, the USDA said this week.