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Midwestern Cherry Crops Obliterated, While Northwest Orchards Predict Record Harvest

Midwest Cherry Crop DecimatedCherry farmers in key Midwestern states — including Michigan and Wisconsin — are walking through their orchards and finding few, if any, cherries left on the trees.

The problem? The Midwest experienced a warm, early spring, which got plants blooming early. But that was followed by a few hard freezes, which destroyed the blooms.

The Wisconsin Cherry Growers organization said on its website that this year’s crop in northern Door County might have been obliterated.

“The last cherry crop disaster in Door County occurred in 2008, with only 600,000 pounds of production out of a potential 12,000,000 pounds. It is too early to say how bad 2012 will be, but it is possible that production may not exceed those 2008 numbers,” the group predicted.

Orchard owners in Michigan, which produce three-quarters of the nation’s tart cherries, told the Detroit News their crops are “obliterated,” and the governor is seeking federal disaster aid.

“I would consider this to be about as much of a disaster as anything could be,” said Bruce Upston of Wasem Fruit Farm.

Businesses like Michigan-based Cherry Republic, which ships cherry products worldwide, are struggling to scoop up enough cherries to meet demand. They’re already planning to mix cranberries with cherries in some products, the Wall Street Journal reported, at a reduced cost to customers: $12.95 a pound for cherries and cranberries, compared with $18.95 for dried cherries.

“About a month ago, we received a pallet of cherries and we were told this was going to be the last pallet,” Cherry Republic production manager Terry Hornbaker told the Wall Street Journal. “At that point, we only had a week’s supply. And we had no answers of what we were going to do beyond that.”

Farmers said that there might not be an economic point in sending laborers into the fields to harvest what is left, according to the Farmer’s Exchange.

“I call this Death Valley now,” farmer Jeff Send said.

“The next 15 months will be the worst economic times [Michigan] cherry growers will have ever known,” said Suttons Bay grower Don Gregory.

NORTHWEST HARVESTS LOOKING BETTER

Growers in other states are doing a lot better. Washington orchards are expected to produce 204,895 tons of sweet cherries, up 16 percent from 2011, the state ag department said.

The harvest period in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Montana is also going to be significantly earlier this year than last, reported the Yakima Herald-Republic, with five million boxes of cherries shipped by the Fourth Of July.

“We think we have one of those optimum crops,” B.J. Thurlby, president of the Washington State Fruit Commission and Northwest Cherry Growers, told the paper. “We had a mild winter and a perfect bloom.”

Additional Resources:

Melinda Tichelaar is the Community Manager for Food.Farmer.Earth, as well as a reporter for the Kenosha (Wisconsin) News and website/line producer for WFLD in Chicago. Melinda, her husband, and their three sons live happily on Lake Michigan in Kenosha, where they like to sail, bar-b-q, buy interesting eggs at the Farmers Market and sneak whole wheat flour into cookies when no one is looking.

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