Farmers are tough — especially, it seems, cherry farmers. Every year they face a season of uncertainties. Year after year, they roll with the punches and come out swinging.
But market forces appear to be winding up to deliver a powerful jab to the U.S. cherry industry’s gut.
The industry depends on the ability of cherry growers to turn a profit. Without a profit, farmers simply can’t stay in business. There’s no guarantee of a profit in the agriculture industry.
Area cherry growers — like other farmers — confront weather, insects and biologic pests, any one of which can hurt their crop. They use chemicals to help control things like bugs and fungus. There’s not a lot farmers can do if the weather throws a problematic punch, other than pick up the pieces and hope for better conditions next year.
Mother nature this year was particularly cruel to area cherry farmers. Weather and pests combined to make it an exhausting season.
Farmers also confront marketing and economic barriers to success. Outside forces are crowding the ring, and they look formidable.
Cherry farmers banded together decades ago to help deal with the up-and-down cycle of supply and demand. The Cherry Industry Administrative Board, based in Dewitt, balances the quantity of frozen cherries in storage with current demand, and each year dictates how many pounds of fresh tart cherries U.S. member farmers can sell into the marketplace. The system isn’t perfect, and it results in the periodic dumping of excess cherries — waste no one applauds, but a marketing strategy that has helped cherry growers earn a profit most years.
The road to cherry profits has been getting rockier.
Imported cherry juice and dried cherries are driving down prices of similar products made from U.S. cherries. The U.S. industry group has no control over cherry products imported by non-member businesses. U.S. growers have been lobbying for duties on imports to try and counteract the influx of cheap cherry products. A group led by Traverse City-area growers was able to get some governmental action on cherry juice imports. Efforts to request duties on imported dried cherries are in progress.
The imports, many of them from Turkey but also from other countries, already have driven down prices that Michigan farmers earn from their toil. It has become difficult, if not impossible, for U.S. tart cherry growers to turn a profit.
Duties present at least a partial solution to the problem of unfairly priced imports. Farmers and processors are working together with the goal of keeping the U.S. industry strong.
Multiple factors combined to make 2019 a particularly challenging year for local cherry farmers. We hope the situation will turn around in 2020.