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Road salt, not extreme cold, a problem for blueberries

7:08 PM, Jan 10, 2014   |    comments
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WEST OLIVE, Mich. (WZZM) -- Blueberry farmers along the lakeshore say they escaped the deep freeze without any major crop damage.

"When we get down to 15 or 20 below, we will start seeing damage, but I think here along the lakeshore we haven't hit that yet, so we hope for the best for the rest of the winter," says Dave Reenders, owner of Crossroads Blueberry Farm.

While the weather doesn't appear to have harmed the blueberry crops, the salt used to treat roads likely has.

It's a place where two worlds collide. The fast paced M-45 highway meets the slow winter season for blueberry farmers like Dave Reenders. "When they're driving to work everyday, they're thinking about getting to work," says Reenders.

Especially during winters like this, drivers depend on road salt to get to work. Reenders scooped up some of the salt from the nearby road which he says ends up in his blueberry fields. "It gets picked up by the cars and goes airborne and then the wind blows it into the fields," says Reenders. "The salt gets into the buds and just kills them."

Reenders say fortunately only the crops within 200 feet of the highway are impacted, but still the damage is significant, in the thousands of dollars. "Even last year, the end bushes had as much as 100% damage," says Reenders. "It's only the middle of January, so we have quite a while yet and we've already had a lot of salt spread."

Over the years, Reenders says the amount of salt being used continues to grow to keep up with driver demands. "30 years ago they were putting two tons of salt per road mile, and that has increased steadily, as more and more drivers want to go faster," says Reenders. "Eventually, people are going to realize the damage to the environment and drive slower."

In the meantime, Reenders will patiently wait out the winter, until he can determine the damage done in March. Reenders concedes road crews dump less road salt near blueberry fields compared to other areas of road. He says he doesn't want new regulations, just for drivers to be aware of the environmental issue caused by road salt.

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