Is Michigan leaving cherries (and dollars) on the ground?

cherry-harvest-northern-michigan

“That cherry pie calling your name at the National Cherry Festival this week in Traverse City is made in Michigan, but they’re a product of regulations that, in some years, has led Michigan farmers to dump cherries on the ground while products made with tart cherries are being imported from Canada and Poland.”

The above is from a timely and fascinating look at Federal quotas and their impacts on northern Michigan’s cherry industry. Read on for more!

Ron French’s feature Economy & competitive position Cherry wars: The crazy economics of Michigan’s favorite pitted fruit in Bridge Magazine says in part:

Leelanau Tart Cherries

Leelanau Tart Cherries

“It’s crazy,” said Bill Sherman, whose company, Burnette Foods, an Elk Rapids food processing company, is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to upend a system it claims is outdated and hurting growers. “This is New Deal legislation when farming was 40 acres and a mule,” Sherman said. “Agriculture is nothing like that now.”

The fact that the National Cherry Festival is held in Traverse City is no accident. About 75 percent of the nation’s tart cherries are grown in Michigan, and about 80 percent of Michigan’s cherries are grown in orchards in the Northwest Lower Peninsula. By comparison, Michigan’s auto industry accounts for about a third of the nation’s auto employment.

Unlike Ford and General Motors, though, the tart cherry industry is told by the U.S. government how much of their product they can put on the market. The Cherry Industry Administrative Board (CIAB), operating under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture (USDA), sets restrictions on the percentage of the tart cherry crop that can be sold. Some years the share of the market restricted from market is low, like this year, which has a 10 percent restriction. In 2009, it was a whopping 65 percent.

Organic Cherry Preserves by Trish P

Organic Cherry Preserves by Trish P

In 2009, 30 million pounds of tart cherries were left on the ground nationwide, with the vast majority of those in Michigan. That’s enough to serve a cherry pie to every resident of Michigan, with 5 million pies left over to take home in doggie bags.

…In the lawsuit, Burnette Foods asks that the USDA tart cherry restrictions be removed because the restrictions don’t impact every processor equally, and don’t take into account sales of imported cherry products. Burnette also claims the cherry board, made up of cherry growers and processors from around the country, is dominated by people with ties to the frozen cherry processors.

Read on for much more and head over to the eatdrinkTC Facebook to comment!