Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Irrigation gets West Michigan blueberry growers through the drought

 Close-up view of a cluster of three blueberries on the bush.
Liz West
Flickr/Creative Commons license:

A watering system is increasingly necessary as summers get drier, an MSU Extension fruit expert said.

Michigan’s blueberry crop is looking good despite the drought, but only because farmers are irrigating their plants day after day.

Cheyenne Sloan is with the Michigan State University Extension’s Van Buren County office. She said nearly all of the blueberry growers she works with are irrigating to keep their plants healthy. Some are running the water all night. It takes time to turn the systems on and off and to maintain them, adding another item to farmers’ schedules.

Sloan added that a few older farms don’t have irrigation, but those blueberry bushes are well-established with deep roots. Also, they tend to have been planted on excellent sites.

“Really good blueberry sites have a really high water table. And so even if it's not raining, the water table is still close enough that the blueberries are usually able to access it.”

Sloan said that as recently as 10 or 15 years ago, not every grower bothered with a watering system. But as the climate warms, it would be hard for most farms to get by without them.

“Our summers are getting drier and weather is just getting a little bit more erratic. And if you want to have a good consistent blueberry crop or any other kind of fruit crop, you're going to have to put in irrigation,” she said.

Roger Bredeweg did install irrigation when he and his wife founded their farm, Bredeweg Acres, outside Stevensville in 1988. They grow one and a half acres of blueberries. Bredeweg irrigates from a pond, and keeping ahead of the drought has been a chore.

“To clean up the water takes a lot of filtration. So I’m constantly changing filters and cleaning the filters and it amounts to a lot of work,” he said.

The drought does have the advantage of making it hard for pests to thrive. Bredeweg said he’s had less trouble with fungus growing on his plants this year, and so far it looks like he’ll have an abundant crop.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. She covered those topics and more in eight years of reporting for the Station, before becoming news director in 2022.