2018-07-12 / Front Page

Cherry set-aside at 31%

Sweets after tarts?
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

Something different is going on at the Shimek cherry farm near Maple City.

The harvest will begin next week with tart cherries first and sweet cherries to follow.

“I spoke with my dad (Joe Shimek) and he told me that’s never happened,” he said. “The farm has been in the family for 100 years.”

Traditionally, sweet cherries mature about a week or so before tarts. However, this year, the load on sweet trees, the shortened season and a lack of rain has slowed the ripening process.

National sweet cherry production is expected to fall 26 percent. However, the Michigan crop is predicted to grow by nearly 12 percent. That bodes well for prices.

“Our sweets are loaded and we have a more moderate crop of tarts,” Shimek said.

Still, the Shimeks and tart growers across the county will be setting aside 31 percent of this year’s crop to comply with the federal marketing order set last week.

The recently realigned and USDA-approved Cherry Industry Administrative Board (CIAB) met Friday in Lansing to determine what percentage of 2018 cherries will be diverted away from traditional markets this summer in an attempt to stabilize prices.

“It’s up for the processors to determine how much fruit they will take,” said Mollie Weeks, CIAB executive director.

The federal marketing order applies to production in seven states. However, there’s no place in the country more impacted than northern Michigan. Specifically, Leelanau County which grows more sweet and tart cherries combined than any other county in the nation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2018 crop estimate, issued late last month, forecasts a harvest of 344.5 million pounds of tarts nationwide with 264 million coming from Michigan.

Projected tart production represents a 21 percent increase from production last year of 270.4 million.

In northwest Michigan alone an estimated 150 million pounds of tarts are ripening on trees — more than double that of any other region — or state — included in the crop forecast.

The agency’s Week 1 raw product report shows that tart harvest is nearly complete in Pennsylvania and is expected to finish below the forecasted 2.5 million pounds.

In southwest Michigan, the tart harvest has begun with good quality fruit. However, fruit has been “a little on the smaller side” in some areas, Woods said.

The region includes Berrien, VanBuren and Allegan counties. Some 29 million pounds of tarts are expected to come from the three counties, down slightly from the 33.6 million tarts harvested last year.

Harvest is moving along in the west-central part of the state, which includes Mason, Oceana and Newaygo counties.

“Fruit is good but showing some quality issues related to recent storms and wind,” Woods reported.

Locally, harvest has begun but isn’t expected to be in full swing until next week.

Al Steimel of Leelanau Fruit reported yesterday that the processing firm has not taken in any fruit.

“Not yet, but we’re very close,” he said.

Steimel said the late spring and quick warm-up, has thrown off the timing off the harvest.

“We had bloom and then some fast and furious warm weather,” he said. “There’s not as much of a concern about tarts getting larger as there are sweets,” he said. “Some of the sweets just haven’t been ready.”

Dry, warm weather has posed few challenges in terms of disease and pest management, according to Nikki Rothwell, director of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center.

The marketing order is designed to promote the sale of tart cherries through exports and new marketing sales, which are exempt from the 31 percent set-aside order.

But there’s not enough demand in those markets to fit all of the 2018 production, so tarts from whole or partial blocks of trees won’t be processed.

“We shake them in a tank and the inspector has to watch us empty the tanks on the ground,” Shimek said.

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