The Detroit Free Press ran a story today titled “Climate change is already hurting Michigan’s cherry, apple crops — and it could get worse.” The title betrays the thrust of the story, that climate change is causing a decline in cherry and apple production in Michigan, and it is wrong. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows no consistent decline in cherry or apple production in Michigan as the climate has modestly warmed.
The USDA’s National Agriculture Statistical Service (NASS), in cooperation with Michigan’s Department of Agriculture, has released an annual survey or Michigan’s crop production each year since the crop year 1999-2000. Data and data keeping prior to that year was inconsistent, but what exists can also be found on that site. Instead of showing cherry and apple production steadily declining during the period of modest warming, the data clearly demonstrate often wide swings between increases and decreases in Michigan fruit production closely tracking variable, seasonal, weather patterns. Specifically, yields have increased during years lacking late season frost or freeze events, and decreased during years with late season frosts or freezes—late season frosts represent the most important threat to tart cherry production.
That the Detroit Free Press ignored the USDA’s data on cherry and apple production, which show no consistent trend in declining production tied to global warming, is unfortunate but not surprising. This is not the first time the climate alarmed corporate media has attempted to stoke fear of a Michigan crop apocalypse due to climate change. As discussed on Climate Realism here, the media previously claimed Michigan was soon to become too hot to grow fruit. This claim is laughable as the top fruit producing states in the nation, California and Florida, each have considerably higher average temperatures than Michigan has now or is forecasted to have in the future. Climate Realism has also debunked other assertions made by the mainstream media that climate change is hampering crop production in Michigan, here and here, for example.
Michigan is the third top producer of apples in the nation, and the two top apple producing states are warmer than Michigan, as are eight of the remaining top ten apple producing states. Michigan does lead the nation in tart (as opposed to sweet) cherry production. The second largest tart cherry producing state, Utah, has colder winters and warmer summers than Michigan on average, while the third largest producing state, Washington state, has warmer winters and cooler summers. There is no connection to average temperatures and production, rather, as Fox News recently noted, when Michigan’s tart cherry production declines, as it has the past two years, it is almost always due to late season frost events.
If anything, modest warming should, on average, enhance rather than suppress cherry, apple, and other crop production in Michigan as it is resulting in fewer late season frost events. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) keeps detailed records on the frequency of very cold nights. According to NOAA, which measures very cold nights according to five-year periods, the last time there was an above-average number of very cold nights in Michigan was between 1985 and 1989, more than 30 years ago.
Moreover, frost and freeze damage certainly is not dampening Michigan’s agricultural production in general. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, yields for corn, soybean, wheat, and most other crops in Michigan are enjoying steady, long-term increases.
Cherry and apple production in Michigan may decline in the future, but if so, the evidence suggests it won’t be due to climate change.