2018-07-26 / Front Page

Growers pick and hope

Low prices likely
By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff


EVERYONE HELPS. Long-time cherry farmer Carol Coldwell and her grandson J.J. Popp help the family during cherry harvest at Coldwell Farm. The family has been growing cherries in Leelanau County for three generations. EVERYONE HELPS. Long-time cherry farmer Carol Coldwell and her grandson J.J. Popp help the family during cherry harvest at Coldwell Farm. The family has been growing cherries in Leelanau County for three generations. Hurry up and wait.

That seems to be the theme for many of the tart cherry growers in Leelanau County.

What are they waiting for?

Good news, although most don’t believe that will come in the form of tart cherry prices.

For Gary Frederickson, owner of Frederickson Farm in Leelanau Township, it’s a tenuous time.

“This time of year, we take a deep breath and see how long we can hold it,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s worth it to harvest because of the 30 percent set-aside.”

And he’s not alone. Growers are hoping to learn what price will be paid for tarts as they decide whether to invest time and money harvesting fruit.


ALL IN a day’s work. Fifteen year-old J.J. Popp does some heavy lifting during the cherry harvest at Coldwell Farm last week. ALL IN a day’s work. Fifteen year-old J.J. Popp does some heavy lifting during the cherry harvest at Coldwell Farm last week. This season it may cost more to pick cherries than growers will be paid.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service and Board data, the average annual grower price for tart cherries during the 2016-17 season was approximately 27.3 cents per pound.

The verdict is still out for this season’s prices.

Frederickson said he heard the price was going to be 30 cents a pound, but he felt that 20 cents “would be good.”

Other growers we’ve talked to are predicting prices much lower.

The problem is that sometimes the agreed-upon price isn’t the only issue — sometimes growers don’t get paid at all.

“Most processors give 10 cents a pound down payment, and some years that’s all you end up with,” Frederickson said. He explained it’s a matter of cost for everyone involved — both growers and processors.

“After they put money into sugar and canning expenses, what’s left is a profit for them and us. It’s not much,” he said. “Or, if it’s stored in the freezer for a year, and it will cost for the year to do that ... the light bill has to be paid.”

Tanya and Craig Popp, owners of Coldwell Farm in East Leland, said they have not received full payment from their 2017 crop.

“Our first check normally comes in October - that is when we find out what we will be paid,” Tanya Popp said. “So planning ahead, for example not shaking a certain type or knowing if you might break even, doesn’t even happen until long after the season.”

The question then becomes, was all of the time and effort worth it?

“As a third generation cherry farmer that is a question we are constantly asking ourselves,” Popp said. “It’s a lot of time and energy, stress, weather watching and hope in the unknowns.”

There are some farmers who have stopped asking. They’ve decided to stop growing cherries altogether.

Now in the process of taking over the family farm that has been in the cherry business for nearly five decades, sister and brother Dana and Josh Boomer have made the tough decision to forgo cherries and focus their efforts elsewhere.

“The decision to drop cherries hasn’t been an easy one,” Dana Boomer said. “And it hasn’t been a quick one either.”

The two have been wrestling with it for the past three or four years. But based on their past numbers and the future they see in cherry growing, they’re calling it quits.

“We are getting out because it’s just not worth it,” Boomer said.

There were specific factors, such as the hefty amount of regulation and new pests like Spotted Wing Drosophila.

One of the main frustrations, Boomer said, was the cherry market itself.

“I understand with diversions they’re doing it to try to keep prices up, but they’re importing so much fruit and prices are in the tank - so why are they dumping so much? If we quit importing cherries, we might have better prices,” she said.

New cherry products might help. That’s where Mollie Woods, executive director of the Cherry Industry Administrative Board, is focusing her efforts.

“At our July 6 meeting, sales were up over the previous year and sales are up in the new product category,” she said. Although specifics about those new products are confidential, Woods said firms are constantly innovating and finding new opportunities.

A potentially smaller crop than anticipated with high quality fruit will help.

“I’m hearing that quality is really good in the north, and a few people are commenting the crop is not as large as originally thought,” Woods said.

Bingham Township grower Jim Nugent agrees. “I do think this crop is going to pick out lighter than the current crop estimate,” he said.

That would help balance a market that can’t absorb a heavy crop.

The harvest is only now in full swing. In the week ending July 14, CIAB reported northwest Michigan had harvested 3 million of the estimated 150 million pounds for the season, according to the website.

“I’m in limbo, waiting to see,” Frederickson said. “I hope to deliver some cherries soon.”

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