Cherry growers in various locations around the world are weathering a problem — too much rain, too quick, at just the wrong point in the growing season.
Agriculture information platform FreshPlaza.com reports that California cherry orchards last week were hammered with rain. The blast of moisture caused fruit to split open on the trees. Up to 30 percent of the California cherry crop could be lost. Cherry growers in Chile, Greece and Italy have been having similar problems, FreshCoast reported.
Northern Michigan farmers in 2012 faced a weather event that decimated our state’s cherry crop. An early spring heat wave was followed by a freeze. Cherries, peaches, pears and plums took a hit. The result was a terrible year for fruit production in Michigan.
Farmers depend on predictable weather. The air needs to get warm to begin the growing season. Plants need sunshine and water in the right combination to nurture growth.
Too much water leads to flooding and delays in the start of planting season — a condition many corn farmers in the Great Plains states are suffering right now. Not enough water parches the soil and can reduce yields. Many places on Earth are facing drought conditions this year — India, China, much of Europe, several regions in the U.S.
Michigan is surrounded by plentiful water resources. Rain has been generally reliable in northwest Lower Michigan. We’re lucky, especially compared to places that regularly suffer drought or flood.
I can only imagine the feeling of relief and pride that a farmer must experience when a good crop develops and is sent off to market.
My wife and I used to have a small plum tree in our East Bay Township backyard. It was already elderly, perhaps decrepit, when we bought the place. I delighted each summer in watching the fruit develop, and waited anxiously as the plums approached ripeness. Eating fruit straight off the tree makes it taste better than anything you can purchase in a store.
Profit — to a commercial farmer — probably tastes even better than those plums I used to pluck off our backyard tree.
The tree is gone. We fenced an enclosure when our kids were young, and that little plum tree was smack at the logical place for the fence gate. I admit to almost shedding a tear when I cut it down.
I still miss those little plums that appeared like magic every summer. They were wimpy, misshapen little bundles of flavorful joy that would age on the tree from ripe to rotten in only a couple of days. The juicy purple plums available at the grocery store are prettier and keep longer. Consumers obviously would choose them over what used to grow in our yard.
But, oh, did they taste good to me. I was a happy inheritor of the previous owner’s leftover single-tree orchard. Back when I chopped down the plum tree, I intended to plant a replacement in a better location. But it never happened. I’m lazy. And my thumb is on the opposite side of the color wheel from green.
Decades earlier, I worked in an orchard. My family visited a distant relative’s farm near Empire when I was maybe 10 or 12 years old. We drove up from Muskegon. My older brother and I each were issued a ladder and sent into the orchard to pick pears. Our sister was too young to climb, so she stayed on the ground.
The memory is faint. I distinctly recall how good the pears tasted, vaguely recall how hot it was that day, and have no recollection of where the farm was or who the relatives were.
I’m sure I didn’t contribute much to the harvest that day. How many pears would a pudgy preteen pick, if a pudgy preteen could pick pears?
It didn’t rain that gorgeous blue-sky day. Rain was nowhere on the horizon.
Out in California, though, this spring’s heavy rains have prompted entrepreneurs to devise solutions. One possible answer for California cherry farmers are covers that keep rain off the trees. Stationary covers — basically roofs — are commercially available, FreshPlaza reported. But being constantly covered can make the cherries softer, which many consumers don’t prefer.
At least one company — headquartered in Ontario — markets automated retractable covers that, once installed, can cover or uncover acres of fruit trees in just three minutes. They would allow an orchard to bask in the sun when the weather is nice, but be protected from the weather when conditions turn bad — at the touch of a button. I imagine the covers could help prevent fruit damage from both excess rain and excess cold. The price, though, likely is outrageous.
If I ever plant another plum tree and it rains during harvest season, maybe I could just hold an umbrella over it until the sun comes out.
Contact Business Editor Dan Nielsen at 231-933-1467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.