2014-07-03 / Local News

No bumper crop, but final cherry forecast higher

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

Like many years, there won’t be local fruit ready for the National Cherry Festival, which begins Saturday in Traverse City.

But there should be plenty available come the end of the month, albeit a little later than most years.

The official red tart cherry estimate released last week came out a little higher than initial “guesstimates” nationally and locally as well.

Initial thoughts were that 247.5 million pounds of tart cherries were growing nationwide. However, the final national crop estimate came in at 271 million.

Michigan’s production is estimated at 191 million pounds, up about 5 percent from preliminary figures. Of that amount, 125 million pounds are growing in northwest lower Michigan. Preliminary estimates were 110.

Not everyone agrees with the figures.

“Growers thought (125 million) was a little high,” said Nikki Rothwell, director of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station in Bingham Township.

Centerville Township fruit grower Elmer Hohnke of Hohnke Orchards is seeing about as many tarts on his family’s farm as he did last year.

“Last year wasn’t bad in terms of money,” said Hohnke, whose farm includes 100 acres of tart and 24 of sweets. “Last year our numbers weren’t that great but we had had one, two, three years way below.”

Final figures for west central Michigan were lower than the 50 million pounds estimated early last month, coming in at 44 million.

Meanwhile, 22 million pounds are growing on trees in southwest Michigan, up from 18 to 20 million forecast early on.

“Crops in Utah and

Washington are sizeable,” Rothwell said.

Tarts in six other fruit-growing states are estimated at 80 million pounds. The two largest contributors are Utah with 35 million pounds and Washington with 24 million. Wisconsin is expected to produce 9.5 million pounds; New York, 8.5 million; Oregon, 2 million; and Pennsylvania, 1 million.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the tart forecast is down about 10 percent from 2013 production.

Data from the annual count is plugged into a federal marketing order that allows farmers and processors to legally regulate the supply of tart cherries to keep prices stable. That is accomplished by setting aside or “restricting” a percentage of the crop, based on final harvest figures. “Based on these estimates we’re looking at a 10 percent set aside,” Rothwell said. “But I believe most growers won’t leave any fruit on the tree.”

The final restrictive percentage will be determined after harvest.

In the meantime, farmers are busy monitoring for disease that could impact harvest size and quality. Picking is expected to get underway for sweets about July 24 and about a week later for tarts.

“We’ve had (wet) conditions conducive to the development of disease. But the growers are doing a great job keeping things clean and their (fruit) tissue covered,” Rothwell said.

For his part, Hohnke said his sweets are beginning to color. But he added the interior of the fruit is “as green as grass,” which will postpone the application of a chemical “loosener.”

“You have to wait at least 10 days after spraying before shaking,” Hohnke said.

Compared to tarts, Michigan’s contribution to the national sweet cherry estimate is miniscule — this year estimated at 25,800 tons.

Overal 326,240 tons are anticipated, down 2 percent from 2013, according to NASS.

“Growers in Idaho, Oregon and Washington reported excellent weather this year,” said Jay Johnson, director of NASS, Great Lakes Regional Office.

Winter conditions were moderate, and a warm spring resulted in excellent bloom and good pollination levels in those states. However, in California, poor pollination resulted in minimal set and may lead to a record-low yield.

Last year’s forecast turned out to be conservative.

According to the NASS, tart production nationwide in 2013 was 294 million pounds, 17.6 million pounds higher than estimated and 245 percent higher than the 2013 freeze-reduced crop.

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