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Michigans fruit disaster has industry-wide affect

COLOMA, Mich. - Legislation announced this week insures Michigan fruit farmers will get some assistance from the government but an injured industry is far from being healthy.

Estimates are that more than 90 percent of the Michigan’s apples, cherries and peaches were wiped out by frost in April. Some of the hardest hit were in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren Counties.  

“At this point the major cost is paying for the electricity that runs the wells and pumps,” said Kevin Winkle of Winkle Orchards in Hartford lifting up a hose. He is one of hundreds of area farmers paying to maintain crops that won’t make money.

Winkle Orchards usually harvests 100,000 bushels of apples this year Winkle said they’re hoping for 100 bushels. “That would be 1/10th of a percent of a normal crop,” said Winkle. “An average crop.”

Winkle is in line to receive 1% interest loans from the government and purchased crop insurance. He said he isn’t looking for a handout but estimates it’ll take years of a bumper crop to break even from the disaster.

Winkle said he thinks he’ll weather the storm but one of his concerns is fruit-related businesses that are still waiting to take the hit. “I still need to have those businesses in order to have a place to market my crop,” he said.

“It puts an industry that wasn’t entirely healthy at risk,” said Brad Wendzel, president of Coloma Frozen Foods.

Coloma Frozen Foods employs about 100 people. They process and distribute fruit. Wendzel said without fruit coming in the business will suffer. “We will probably shut down our major processing portion of the company for, we’re figuring, eight months.”

Wendzel thinks his company will be okay but others could shut down. 

“It’s almost like a hurricane coming through some place,” said Winkle. He won’t be hiring about 35 farm-hands this fall.

“The ripple effect,” Winkle said. “I can’t imagine.”

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