Fifth-generation cherry farmer John Gallagher has experienced multiple farming challenges over the many years he's been in business, but acknowledges 2020 may be the toughest test of endurance the LeeLanau County farm has ever had to withstand.
At 23, Gallagher purchased a small cherry farm through the Farm Service Agency (FSA), eventually merging it with the family farm when his father passed away seven years later. He has accumulated over 400 acres, including 210 acres of fruit orchards and a thriving agritourism business specializing in scenic, on-site weddings (www.bayviewweddings.com).
Overlooking Grand Traverse Bay in the ‘Cherry Capital of the World’, the farm grows sweet and tart cherries on an ideal landscape. The acreage is hilly and wooded; cool air rolls off the bay and over the grounds, producing the perfect fruit-nurturing environment.
Despite the climate and the area’s astonishing beauty, market fluctuations, foreign imports, brown rot, a shrinking number of cherry processors and the coronavirus pandemic have negatively impacted Gallagher’s season and Michigan’s cherry industry as a whole.
But Gallagher’s not complaining – he’s taking action.
“COVID-19 restrictions have affected our farm workers and our wedding business,” says John. “My son, John III and daughter-in-law Rose, have done a great job of creating venues for elopement ceremonies and small-sized weddings. We’re adapting to the pandemic. Our biggest, ongoing challenge is with market pricing and the lack of legislative protection from ‘cherry dumping’ from Turkey.
“Cherry growers in the USA cannot compete with world trade that is subsidized and has currency that’s worth 10 cents to our dollar,” he adds. “I work to keep my trees healthy and keep the fruit safe. But when you’re growing cherries below cost, and you’re paying a processor to take your fruit – that’s not sustainable. My father, my grandfather, neither of them went through this, and without legislation I don’t know how we, as growers in a tiny industry, are going to solve the issue.”
John and his family have stepped up to become involved with legislative matters affecting fruit growers at the state and federal levels. As a Cherry Industry Administrative Board (CIAB) member, he feels strongly that the American public deserves to understand their food supply chain, and where their food originates. Two of John’s sons, John III and Jordan, are actively working to spotlight the effects of unrestricted imports on what, four years ago, was Michigan’s third largest crop.
In addition to his legislative advocacy, John proactively purchased Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) from GreenStone Farm Credit Services to protect his orchards from an unstable market. The insurance has given him time to grapple with current market factors and has effectively saved his operation.
Whole Farm Revenue Protection provides a risk management safety net for all commodities on the farm under one insurance policy. If you raise less than three commodities, you can insure from 50-75 percent of your approved revenue. If you raise more than three or more commodities, you can insure up to 85 percent. Losses occur when your actual revenue from crops and animal products falls below their guaranteed revenue, which is the approved revenue multiplied by the coverage level. Like other forms of insurance, premium levels will depend on the likelihood of a claim and the level of deductible chosen.
“I sat down with the adjuster a year and a half ago,” Gallagher states. “And after we penciled through a three-hour meeting he told me yes, I had a claim under WFRP and that I would have enough to run the farm this year.
“I’ve talked to my neighbors, other growers, who thought they were insured. I told them about Whole Farm Revenue Protection and explained what it covered, and they’ve thanked me up and down for sharing the information. They didn’t have a claim under their previous coverage, and now they do and they’re able to keep their farms.”
Senior Crop Insurance Specialist Cory Blumerick weighs in on the importance of meeting with your crop insurance specialist annually.
“Since Whole Farm Revenue Protection became available in 2015, we have often times been able to provide a different form of revenue protection that may be more beneficial than current individual crop policies,” Cory says. “With the multitude of crop insurance policy options available, and growers’ ever-changing historical averages, it is important to dig into each grower’s risk management needs yearly, in order to tailor a specialized crop insurance program for that producer.
“The options for specialty crop producers coverage will only be increasing in the coming years,” he adds. “Part of the 2018 Farm Bill is to provide better options for specialty crop and local farming/direct market operations.”
Farming is a family business, and all ten of John’s children have pitched in to help as needed over the years. Gallagher Farms covers some of the prettiest acreage in the nation, and as much as John appreciates the beauty, the real bonus is having his children and grandchildren close to home.
A family farm is heritage worth preserving; for Gallagher, growing high-quality fruit and defending Michigan farms against unfair trade advantages is both his responsibility to the farming community, and his legacy to those who love his farm as much as he does.
To view the article in the online 2020 Fall Partners Magazine, click here.