49 Percent Of Michigan Growers Reported Structural Damage From Harsh Winter Conditions

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The almost record-breaking snowfall and subzero temperatures wreaked havoc on Michigan greenhouse businesses and those throughout the Midwest who are currently in the spring production rush.

Michigan, the third largest producer of floriculture crops in the United States, is an industry grossing $400 million in sales in 2012 according to the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service. The height of spring production season, from January through June, includes some of the coldest months of year. Greenhouse growers are no strangers to Michigan winters, but this winter has been particularly difficult. Challenges faced by greenhouse growers include damaged greenhouse structures from heavy snow loads, high heating bills, increase in labor to remove snow, chilling or freezing damage on vegetative cuttings and disruptions in production shipping and scheduling.

Numerous greenhouse structures sustained damage as a result of the heavy snow throughout Michigan. Michigan State University Extension surveyed greenhouse growers throughout the state and 36 producers responded with their experiences from this winter. Of those who responded, 49 percent of greenhouse operations reported having structural damage due to snow load, including more than 14 acres of greenhouses.

Some owners avoided heavy snow damage by heating their greenhouses to at least 50 degrees to melt the snow. Their reported increases in heating costs ranged from none to 300 percent. The variation can be contributed to many factors including whether the producers had a contract for a fixed price for natural gas and how much greenhouse owners heated their structures to melt the snow.

While some plants are grown from seed, others are shipped to growers as plugs, liners or unrooted cuttings. Shipping the young plants has been challenging for suppliers as a result of the extremely cold temperatures. Sixty-five percent of growers reported receiving a shipment of cuttings with either chilling injury (sub-lethal damage) or freezing injury. While suppliers have been diligently replacing the losses, they have also been forced to delay shipping product for sometimes extended periods to prevent further losses. The unavoidable delays in the shipments of plant materials have altered production timing of crops. Ornamental plant producers often have tight scheduling and 53 percent of growers who responded reported that their scheduling has been disrupted by the extreme cold.

Despite the many challenges, growers remain optimistic that when spring finally comes, consumers will be excited to buy plants to beautify their gardens and homes. As many people throughout Michigan have grown tired of the relentless winter, there is no question that spring will be especially enjoyable this year.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension.

Heidi Wollaeger (wollaege@anr.msu.edu) is a former graduate research assistant and now educator with Michigan State University (MSU) Extension.
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