The future looks bright

The tart cherry industry has seen its share of trying times. The 2002 growing season and its extremely short crop will be remembered by cherry growers for decades. Few growers in northern Michigan had anything worth harvesting that year. In fact, the five-year average of 145 million pounds was slashed to just 1 million pounds.

Then there was 2009, when both quality and quantity came together and growers were asked to stop delivering to processors. While they were given diversion credit, some growers attracted national attention by dumping cherries alongside Traverse City roads.

Key Points

Gross sales of tart cherries increased by 18.3% for the past crop.

Michigan tart cherry production forecast is 210 million pounds, up 56% from 2010.

Industry recapturing markets after 2002’s poor cherry crop.

Growers were hit with frost last year and lost about half the crop. And while demand was high, the huge carryover from 2009 stopped growers from getting more for their harvest.

With all that behind the industry, there seems to be good news ahead. Sales figures for last year’s crop, recently released by the Cherry Industry Administrative Board, indicates a substantial jump from the prior year. Gross sales for the past crop year were 268 million pounds, which exceeds 2009 gross sales of 227 million by 41 million pounds, an 18.3% increase.

U.S. forecast: 266.1 million pounds

With a national crop forecast of 266.1 million pounds, the sales and crop size are matched favorably for the growers, particularly because most of the carryover inventory is either committed or is poor-quality fruit.

The state’s tart cherry production forecast is 210 million pounds, 56% higher than in 2010, reports the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, Michigan Field Office. At the time of this writing, with cherry harvest in full swing, the estimate for northern Michigan production was 135 million to 140 million pounds.

“The grower community thought that was high,” says Perry Hedin, executive director of the Cherry Industry Administrative Board. “We’re very optimistic about the future. That’s nice to say because 2002 was such a problem for us.

It was a national crop disaster, and customers don’t hang around waiting for us to produce next season. They reformulate, resource and substitute with other fruit. We had to recapture those markets. We’ve been getting them back slowly, and the growers have persevered.”

Cherries are controlled by a federal marketing order, and Hedin says the industry is trying to amend the order to give qualified growers more when there is orchard diversion. “The change would regulate the processor, not the grower, if a processor says leave fruit in orchard. Right now the grower credit is discounted.”

The amendment would essentially provide for equal treatment for the processor and the grower when there is a diversion.

“We hope to have it in play by next crop year,” Hedin says.

This article published in the August, 2011 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.