BERRIEN SPRINGS — "A game of chance." That's how some local fruit farmers are describing the month of April ahead, after an early spring heat wave this week started buds forming on their produce earlier than usual. That's now producing something else: a new sense of uncertainty. It felt a lot more like summer than spring Thursday, as the mercury soared past 80 degrees in many spots. And people weren't alone in soaking up the sun. Fruit crops across the area are taking notice of this early spring heat wave, too. And that has some farmers feeling a little nervous. They're keeping a very close eye on their trees and vines. Because temperatures have been so far above normal over the last few days, many have started to bud weeks earlier than usual. Now, all it will take is a few frigid nights to wipe out much of this year's crop. Michiana emerged from winter hibernation this week to enjoy an early April Fools Day gift from Mother Nature. But, for local fruit farmers like Mike Hildebrand, or Hildebrand Farms in Berrien Springs, the weather was no joke. "Once you start the accelerator being depressed, the sap is moving in the trees and the trees are ready to get going," Hildebrand said. "And it's depressed to the floor with these temperatures. Now that they're starting to grow, they want to grow." And they're growing at surprising rates. "With these honey crisp [apple trees], they tend to be a tighter bud," Hildebrand said, pointing to a budding branch. "So, the fact that they're showing green on the tip indicates that everything is moving quite a bit. Two or three days ago, these buds were very, very tight. And, yesterday, there were no leaves showing at all. So, in three days, they've moved a lot." If temperatures stay this warm, that's really no problem. But, Michiana springs don't tend to be quite that cooperative. So, what happens if temperatures dip well below freezing for a few nights in a row? "It depends on how cold it gets," Hildebrand said. "If it's just a quick frost, it's not good, but it's not that big of a deal. If you get a 25 degree night, it just fries stuff. It's when you get the super high and super low. It's a roller-coaster ride. And that's what makes me nervous." Hildebrand has good reason to be. Four years ago, he lost about a third of his income after his thermometer hit 23° overnight near the end of April, damaging much of his grape crop beyond repair. That danger could extend to his peach, nectarine, cherry, and apple crops too. "Farming is professional gambling," Hildebrand said. "The difference is--someone else is moving you all in. Mother Nature is playing the chips, and I haven't even seen the cards yet. That's why the seven day forecast is like my Bible right now." And Hildebrand isn't the only one reading it. Just up the road, produce distributor Dave Pagel, owner of Pagel Produce, is growing a bit uneasy too. "This is a bit unusual to be this warm at this time of year. So, every day they're just going to be sticking out there farther and farther. So, they'll be susceptible to frost damage. Usually, they can stand the frost. It's when we get hard freezes that we get concerned," Pagel said. Lower crop volume can often mean lower profits. That's why both farmers are keeping a close eye on the weather. Still, neither farmer is hitting the "panic button" quite yet. "There's no need to panic. It wouldn't do any good anyway. There's always a danger of a freeze every year. But, there's nothing we can do," Pagel trailed off. Then, smiling, he quickly continued. "And, there's no damage yet," he said. The key now is keeping it that way.