2018-02-22 / Front Page

Cherries gain the ear of Trump

Good takes on trip to Washington
By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff


PART OF a contingent representing the cherry industry in Washington were, from left, Michael DeRuiter, a grower from Hart; Mollie Woods, Cherry Industry Administative Board director; and Ben LaCross, Leelanau grower and Farm Bureau representative. PART OF a contingent representing the cherry industry in Washington were, from left, Michael DeRuiter, a grower from Hart; Mollie Woods, Cherry Industry Administative Board director; and Ben LaCross, Leelanau grower and Farm Bureau representative. Progress was made last week in Washington by a delegation representing the cherry industry on the two biggest issues facing growers.

“We went with two messages,” said Don Gregory, whose family agricultural operations include orchards in Leelanau and Van Buren counties as well as the Shoreline Fruit Processing Facility in Williamsurg. “We needed help with tariffs and a bonus purchase of cherries.”

While neither box was checked, both concerns were heard by federal bureaucrats and law makers.

Even Donald Trump was talking cherries, according to a transcript of a White House trade meeting among the president and 20 U.S. senators.

Michigan Senator Gary Peters was among those warning Trump about the harm that steel-dumping inflicts on the auto parts industry. The Bloomfield Township Democrat also pushed for help for smaller industries, and has introduced a bill in the Senate what would allow the Commerce Department to initiate trade enforcement actions on their behalf.

“In Michigan, for example, we have cherries,” Peters is reported to have told the President. “Right now we’ve got the dumping of cherries that’s making it very difficult for our growers in Michigan. But they don’t have the resources to bring those kinds of enforcement actions.”

The Detroit News carried the story, and also reported that Trump replied, “You have my help.”

According to the News, Trump turned to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and asked: “Wilbur, are you working on that?” Ross responded: “Yes, sir.”

Gregory and others who made the one-day, whirlwind trip to Washington are ecstatic. They’ve contended for more than a year that Turkey should not be allowed to enjoy “trade-free” status with America — which includes exporting the bulk of concentrate cherry drink consumed int he US — while slapping a 58 percent tax on cherry imports.

The cherry industry had been slow to start the process to file an unfair trade complaint because of its cost and an uncertain result, especially with Turkey hosting a key military base for Middle East operations. Peters hopes to remedy that problem by proposing a Senate bill allowing the federal government to initiate — and pay for — the action.

Trump is quoted at the meeting as saying, “I think it’s a fantastic idea. Because you’re right — (the cherry industry) can’t hire the lawyers, it’s too small. But it’s — you know in a double way — it’s very, very big.”

While cherry representatives did not attend the meeting, they had a busy day meeting with members of Congress and representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Gregory said. He was joined by Phil Korson, president of the Cherry Marketing Institute, and Leelanau County fruit grower and Farm Bureau representative Ben LaCross.

Gregory praised the work of LaCross in gaining the ear of Washington decision makers.

Cong. Jack Bergman, whose district includes Leelanau County, has written a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture urging the purchase of 50 million pounds of tart cherries for use by food banks and other nonprofits.

The cherry industry is facing short- and long-term problems. While evening the playing field for imports will help in the long run, a couple years of large crops have left too many cherries in storage. A big government purchase would help stabilize prices headed into the 2018 harvest.

“We flew in and flew home the same day, and had seven or eight visits. It was a busy day. But it was a feel-good day to come home from,” Gregory said.

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