Farmers using fans to warm orchards

COLOMA, Mich. - Thursday night will be another sleepless night for Southwest Michigan’s fruit farmers. A frost warning will be in effect until 9 a.m. Friday.

The spring of 2012, altogether, has been a battle for farmers. Warmer temperatures jump-started the growing season and now that things are getting back to normal frosts and freezes are threatening fruit crops.

“You don’t want to lose any of it,” said Jay Jollay of Jollay Orchards in Coloma. When the sun sets the fight begins with Mother Nature.

Jollay, like many other local farmers Thursday night, will be on the lookout for dropping temperature. When it hits 32 degrees Jollay isn’t completely defenseless. “This is our shot at saving these 10 acres of crop,” he said as he pointed to a massive fan above the fruit tree canopy.

Jollay’s first line of defense is a wind machine. The fan churns up the air and warms the orchard a few degrees. Thursday night, a few degrees can mean the difference.

The orchard only has one wind machine covering ten acres of sweet cherries, the most valuable crop in the orchard. The other 240 acres are without a shield. “The majority of the farm is still exposed to frost or freeze.”

According to Jollay, the growth stage of each fruit can make them more susceptible to cold temperatures. The apple crop is the most vulnerable right now. The trees have only begun to blossom and are not yet pollinated.

Cherries and apricots can withstand colder temperatures because they have small fruit budding. If temperatures were to dip into the mid-20s, it would be a different story. “The fruit starts to turn black and eventually it falls off the trees.”

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