Cherry farmers prepare for cruel fate
The past four weeks have been like a bedside vigil for cherry farmers as they and everyone else associated with the cherry industry await the official proclamation of the death of the 2012 crop.
While it’s a little early to plan a funeral, orchardists seem reserved to the premise that they need to find enough money to pay for one. Most were in business one decade ago, when two nights of temperatures in the low 20’s coupled by a wind that kept cool air from settling into valleys virtually wiped out the tart cherry crop in Leelanau County and most of Michigan.
It was viewed of as a once-a-career event. Farmers doggedly accepted the setback, knowing that their profit has to do with events outside their control as much as their ability to prune just the right branch on a cherry tree, or woo a John Deere engine to fire up on a cold, dreary morning.
And so a year without profit was endured. Loan payoffs were put on hold; margins extended. Farm hands were laid off. Migrant workers stayed away in droves.
There was nothing to pick.
So will the 2012 crop be that bad?
The possibility seems likely. Reports from around the county indicate that whole orchards of tarts have been killed off. Temperatures in the 80’s in March fooled cherry buds into maturity, after which more seasonal overnight lows did their damage. All this after a snowstorm felled limbs and split trunks of many mature tart trees.
Sources say there will likely be a very light sweet cherry crop. Sweets in many parts of the county are already past bloom while tarts are just now showing off their flowers.
Both events occurred about a month ahead of time.
The loss of the tart crop couldn’t come at a worst time for the cherry industry, which seems to have finally convinced consumers that cherries satisfy taste and health needs at once.
Ten years ago, the lack of a local crop sent food manufacturers looking to Eastern Europe to satisfy their commitments — or simply replacing cherries with other fruits such as, egads, blueberries.
We say all this not so much to inform, but to prepare. Many county residents will be affected; some will be without jobs.
It will be another tough season for the Leelanau County agricultural community.