2017-08-10 / Front Page

Rain diverts county cherry crop to juice

By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff

BILL KLEIN operates the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center shaker in Bingham Township. BILL KLEIN operates the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center shaker in Bingham Township. Unwelcome rain last week continued to degrade the quality of Leelanau County’s remaining tart cherries.

“Everything we’re harvesting now, we’re harvesting for juice,” said Jeff Send, owner and operator of Send Receiving and S&E Farms.

Heat and untimely rain had already softened up tarts left on trees — but it seems the most recent precipitation made the fruit nearly unpittable.

Send said cherries for juice and frozen cherries are selling for similar prices, but overall that prices are poor.

“As far as our returns are concerned, they’re not what we need to sustain and go forward,” Send said.

Growers are receiving about 18 cents per pound. A sustainable price, he said, is about 26 cents per pound.

Send, who recently shared 2017 Cherry Industry Person of the Year honors with his wife, Nita Send, said imported cherries are to blame.

“The stuff coming offshore is killing us,” he said. “With this low of a price, I’m hoping processors can recapture some of the market they lost. If they don’t, there’s going to be fewer of us.”

On the plus side, some fortunate growers finished up their harvests before last week’s rains. Others have produced high-quality fruit despite somewhat high temperatures and moisture.

Success stories seem to be in the minority, however, and most growers have finished shaking by now.

Unfortunately, it appears 2017 may become known in northwest Michigan as the year of the soft, plump tart cherry.

“I heard cherries were pretty soft last week,” said Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center. “A lot of that stuff is going to the juice market now. There is probably some diversion going on now, but I have to say this season has been really quiet.”

Some county apples may share a similar fate after Mother Nature delivered an all-too familiar blow last week: hail damage.

Rothwell said hail hit some of her apples in Suttons Bay, but that a representative with Cherry Bay Orchards and others have reported no bruising.

In comparison, hailstorms in 2015 and 2016 were far more devastating.

“The damage wasn’t quite as deep as before, but hail still puts marks on apples,” said Suttons Bay Township grower Jim Bardenhagen, who attended a quarterly federal crop insurance meeting this week in Washington D.C. “I still have to grade those out. The neighbor said his were hit, too.”

Nonetheless, Rothwell and Bardenhagen said orchardists expect to harvest a sizable crop.

The same cannot be said for those still harvesting tart cherries, however.

“It’s going downhill,” Bardenhagen said.

It’s unclear whether other northwest Michigan tart cherry growers have similar concerns.

The Cherry Industry Administrative Board’s Week 5 Raw Product Report had not been posted at press time.

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