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Bigger tart cherry harvest this year in northern MI, say industry leaders

Aaron Selbig
A warehouse at Burnette Foods in Elk Rapids filled with cans of cherry pie filling.

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.

Each year, in an attempt to keep the industry stable, the cherry board restricts tart cherry sales. They look at harvest estimates and decide what percentage of cherries should be allowed to sell in the traditional market – things like canned pie fillings and frozen cherries – and what percentage should be prohibited from traditional markets. 

Last week, the board made its initial recommendation, suggesting around a third – 31 percent – of tart cherries not go to traditional markets. 

“The best way to think about it is those cherries are being held off of our traditional markets but can be used for sales in other non-domestic, non-traditional markets,” says Mollie Woods, the executive director of the board.

Those cherries can be exported, sold for experimentation or to make new products.

“Maybe a large manufacturer might roll out a new kind of snack food or a new kind of convenience food,” says Woods.

Woods says the tart cherries can also be donated to charities and a small percentage will likely be destroyed.

The board will make the final call on this year’s harvest restrictions in September.

Morgan Springer is a contributing editor and producer at Interlochen Public Radio. She previously worked for the New England News Collaborative as the host/producer of NEXT, the weekly show which aired on six public radio station in the region.