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Michigan's tart cherries take another hit from summer drought

Peter Payette
Interlochen Public Radio

For the second year in a row, northern Michigan’s tart cherry farmers are expecting a small harvest – less than half as much as 2019’s crop.

Allen Steimel is the general manager at Leelanau Fruit Company. He says that low rainfall Up North is stunting the cherries’ growth.

“The drought, it’s gonna affect the size of the individual fruit. What we’re seeing right now is the cherries look fairly small,” Steimel says.

To make matters worse, early temperature shifts resulted in less cherries on the trees.

“We had very warm weather at the end of March, brought our trees out of dormancy,” Steimal explains. “And then we had a downturn and cold weather that lasted for several weeks”

A recent forecast projected this year’s yield at only about 65 million pounds, down from 2020’s 69 million pounds. However, both of these harvests pale in comparison to 2019’s 170 million pounds.

Surplus from 2019 helped cover for 2020’s bad harvest, but now many farmers don’t have much left in their frozen stock to cover for this year’s expected small crop. Two seasons of bad yields could result in a shortage of tart cherries this year.