tart cherries

Aaron Selbig

The tart cherry harvest has begun in Michigan. Millions of pounds have already been harvested in central and southwest Michigan.

The Cherry Industry Administrative Board estimates the harvest will go up to 254 million pounds this year from 197 million pounds last year. That would be a 22 percent increase.

Aaron Selbig

Tart cherry growers in northern Michigan are hoping the Trump administration can help them get a leg up in the juice market.

The Montmorency tart cherry is pretty much the only sour cherry grown in the U.S. And cherry growers in Michigan know the tree really well. It was brought here from France a couple of hundred years ago. "This is older than most people think of as heirloom varieties and it's our main variety to this day," says Jim Nugent, a cherry grower in northern Michigan.

NORTHWEST MICHIGAN HORTICULTURE RESEARCH CENTER

The tart cherry harvest has begun in northern Michigan. The cherry crop is large this year, but growers are dealing with rising numbers of spotted wing drosophila as they harvest.

Drosophila is a tiny insect that originally came from Asia. The bugs have found a home in Michigan in recent years, and their numbers have been growing.

Nikki Rothwell is coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center. She’s been studying spotted wing drosophila.

Jim Nugent says growers are spraying a lot more this year.

Aaron Selbig

The future of Michigan’s cherry industry may be tied to what happens in the courtroom.

An Elk Rapids cherry processor is suing the federal government over its power to regulate the industry. The man who filed the lawsuit is encouraged by a recent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court involving raisins.

    

Bill Sherman has run Burnette Foods with his brothers for 59 years. Way in the back of his factory are rows of pallets, stacked floor to ceiling with thousands of cans of pie filling. It’s pie filling that Sherman can’t sell.

A legal dispute between an Elk Rapids food processor and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is headed back to court. Burnette Foods filed the lawsuit in 2012, claiming an administrative board that controls the cherry industry is antiquated.

Owner Bill Sherman says the cherry board has had a negative effect on his business.

“We have huge amounts of imports coming into the U.S. of tart cherry products and at the same time, we are not allowed to sell our products under the threat of severe financial penalties," says Sherman.

The nation’s tart cherry growers are on track to grow about as many tart cherries as they can sell this year. That’s good news for an industry that often grows too much fruit and sometimes restricts sales to keep supply in balance with demand.

Estimates for 2014 project growers producing about 260 million pounds of tart cherries. Most of that, about 180 million pounds, will come from Michigan.   

The executive director of the Cherry Industry Administrative Board, Perry Hedin, says that’s an average to large crop.

Voting concludes today for tart cherry growers deciding whether they want a controlled market for their fruit. The votes will be counted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For the first time in decades, there appears to be some chance growers could end the complex restrictions on the sale of tart cherries and choose a free and open market instead.

The current marketing order allows an industry board to limit the sale of tart cherries to keep prices stable. Some growers have complained about having to destroy fruit, especially in 2009 when the cherry crop was enormous.