By Fred Goldenberg
In the Cherry Capital, 2012 is going to be remembered as the year Mother Nature was naughty then nice.
While some of us reveled in freakish temperatures that reached into the 80s in March, experienced cherry and fruit farmers knew better. When the heat wave finally subsided and the weather became more seasonal — including, as usual, a series of freezes and frosts — fruit tree buds that had been fooled into thinking it was spring were zapped. The result was a near-total loss of the cherry crop, an economic blow for growers, processors and others that will be felt for years to come.
For example, Michigan’s tart cherry crop — from which pies and most other cherry products are created — was 5.5 million pounds; that’s a lot of cherries, but it’s a pittance compared to the 157 million pounds harvested last year. Just as the market for tarts has grown to 260 million pounds.
The upside is that prices for cherries have soared to new heights. The price of processed cherries could hit $1.50 a pound, 10 times the price for the bumper crop of three years ago. The downside is that most northern Michigan growers have few if any cherries to sell at those inflated prices, so they will miss out on the boom.
On the flip side, the weather during the eight-day run of the National Cherry Festival was nothing less than spectacular, northern Michigan at its summer best.
Temperatures in the 90s and high relative humidity that left 4th of July revelers sweltering — topped by temps that dipped only into the 70s overnight — subsided just in time for the festival. After a few clouds and a few sprinkles on July 7, the opening day, the rest of the week was about as good as it gets in the Grand Traverse area.
Lots of sun, highs in the 80s and cooler temperatures after sunset made for an ideal week to watch a parade, visit the food court, take a swim, buy some cherries, visit the amusement area or relax with friends at the beer tent.
While solid numbers are always hard to come by at the festival, the few available — plus anecdotal observations — point to this being a big year.
Festival officials said crowds have met or exceeded expectations at the music stage all week and the top of the Park Place hotel sold out for the air shows on the opening Saturday and Sunday. There were more than 3,000 in the audience for the country music night.
Participants and spectators alike said the crowd for Thursday’s Junior Royale Parade — under sunny skies and highs in the 80s — was huge.
Forecasters had said there was a slight chance of thunderstorms Saturday for all the last-day festivities, but beyond that the weather could hardly have been better.
Once again the Cherry Festival has proven to be the Big Kahuna of northern Michigan festivals, drawing many thousands of visitors who pumped many thousands of dollars into the region’s economy over the past week. And given the crowds, one would never guess Michigan is still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.
Not bad for the year without cherries.