Weather occurrences bite into Michigan, Wisconsin cherry production
7/8/2021
GreenStone Traverse City Cherries

 

Michigan’s cherry growers are facing back-to-back years of dramatic crop losses brought on by warm early springs and late-season frost and freeze events. Those damaging effects were compounded by a drought making fruit smaller, and late-season hail storms.

 

“We had unseasonably warm weather in April that pushed crop growth, followed by several cold nights in early May, getting as low as 23 degrees in some areas,” says Travis Bratschi, GreenStone Farm Credit Services vice president of lending in Traverse City. “Those cold nights killed some of the viable fruit buds and reduced the overall crop size.”

 

Nikki Rothwell, at MSU’s Traverse City station, says there were 19 freeze events in certain parts of northwest Lower Michigan. “Some growers have a really light crop, while others maybe have a third of a crop,” she reports. “At the station, we have probably a third to half of a crop.”

 

In Benzie County, a grower met with an insurance adjuster. She says, “the farmer is not even going to harvest because there’s nothing really there -- it's definitely all over the board.”

 

She estimates that northwest Michigan may harvest 32 million pounds of its estimated capacity of around 150 million pounds.

 

One phenomenon Rothwell is having a hard time explaining is that trees on the outside of fields and adjacent to roads look better than the interior of fields. “I've heard this from quite a few growers,” she says. “I know it sounds a little weird, but maybe it was a couple of degrees warmer and maybe that made the difference.”

 

Hail damage

If the drought and freezes weren’t enough, this year’s crop of both cherries and apples were subject to hail.

 

“We had hail June 23 in northwest Michigan; and southwest Michigan had some enormous hail the day before,” Rothwell says, “Old Mission, Elk Rapids and Central Lake were hit up here, while southwest Michigan had reports of isolated injuries. It definitely dinged up some cherries and apples.”

 

For Michigan, which grows almost 75% of U.S. production of tart cherries, the total 2019 tart cherry production was 170 million pounds. In 2020 it was 69.3 million pounds, and according to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, it’s forecasted at 65.6 million pounds for 2021,.

 

Wisconsin also lost part of its famous Door County crop to a Memorial Day freeze. In 2019, the Badger state had 9.1 million pounds, which increased to 10.1 million pounds in 2020 after dodging the freezes that stunted Michigan. This year, Wisconsin growers were not as lucky, and the forecast is down to 8.5 million pounds, according to USDA.

 

Despite those setbacks, the United States tart cherry total production for 2021 is forecast at 142 million pounds, up 2% from the 2020 production, USDA reports. Washington and Utah are expected to increase production.

 

 

Growers endure

The strain of back-to-back crop losses is putting financial stress on some growers, but Bratschi believes it’s limited. “I think growers have done a great job positioning themselves over the years,” he says. “Yes, there is some financial stress on farms, but they’re working through it.”

 

Crop insurance, which can cover up to 80% of production, will help growers offset losses. The portion of the crop a grower might lose could be offset in part by insurance proceeds, reduced harvest costs and higher prices.

 

Growers are optimistic about pricing, says Bratschi. “Last year’s price was around 50 cents (per pound) when we had some inventories to draw from. This year, those inventories are lower, so I think growers remain optimistic that pricing might be higher this year. Domestic demand is also booming, partly driven by U.S. shoppers turning to fresh produce during the pandemic.”

 

According to the USDA Fruit and Frozen Juice Concentrate in Cold Storage Report of May 31, 2021, the U.S. had 95.7 million pounds of cherries/products in storage, while there’s less than half of that going into 2021 with 45.9 million pounds.

 

Sweet cherries, which are largely grown out West, are a different story – there is an increase in storage from 7.5 million pounds in 2020 to 12 million pounds in 2021.

 

“In Michigan, sweet cherries are looking good, enduring the hot and dry weather we had in early June,” Rothwell comments. Cherries, both tart and sweet, are running a week or more earlier this year, she says. “Some operations, particularly in Antrim County, started U-pick June 23.”

 

The early harvest is good news for the return of the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, July 3-10, which was cancelled last year because of the pandemic. “It’s exciting to say we will have Michigan cherries ready for the festival, which is not always the case,” Rothwell says.

 

For more details on the festival, visit www.cherryfestival.org.

 
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