Technology curbs W. MI crop concerns amid unusual weather

Schweitzer farms Sparta
Sunshine filters through the clouds over Nick Schweitzer's farm in Sparta. (Feb. 16, 2017)

SPARTA, Mich. (WOOD) — On a mild winter day on the northern Kent County ridge known for fruit production, apple farmer Nick Schweitzer is getting ready for the growing season.

He’s trimming up the trees that will produce his annual harvest in the fall.

It may feel closer to fall over the next several days. Storm Team 8 is predicting highs in the 50s through most of next week.

>>Inside Storm Team 8 Forecast

Schweitzer will be enjoying upcoming warm spell without concern for his crop in Sparta.

“At this point, we’re not really worried,” said Schweitzer.

There was a time when farmers relied on experience and instinct to know when Mother Nature might endanger their crop. These days, they have technology from universities like Cornell, Auburn and Michigan State backing them up.

Schweitzer uses a formula that measures average daily temperatures to find out if a drastic change will cause his trees to bud to early, damaging crops.

“So far, we’re, I think, at about 500 growing degree day hours. That’s still only about 20 percent of what we need for those buds to break dormancy,” he explained.

That temperature information comes from dozens of weather stations Michigan State University Extension installed throughout the state.

Schweitzer puts all the relevant data into a spreadsheet, allowing him to predict when temperature changes may cause concern and when it’s time to protect the crop against disease – changes that could cost you more in the checkout line.

“You have to be able to change with the times,” said Schweitzer. “Change the way you grow based on new technology, and be able to produce more for a growing population.”