2018-02-08 / Front Page

Discussion needed about cherry prices

Enterprise editorial

There is not an agricultural crop in the country that’s doing more than cherries to make a profit — and that’s not a dirty word — in the marketplace.

So why can’t the tart cherry industry pull out of a slump that threatens to claim its most vulnerable members, small-market family growers?

There’s no easy solution, especially when part of the problem lies somewhere in how complicated all business in America has become.

And growing cherries has become just that — a business.

To be successful, business owners must weave through a complex maze of government red tape, worldwide competition and employee issues.

Toss in the biggest unknown — weather’s impact — and you can see why so many would-be members of the next generation of cherry farmers are passing when asked if they’d like to take over the family farm.

Perhaps a journey back to a simpler time would be helpful.

Many of the challenges besetting cherry farmers today have a long history. Let’s look back 70 years.

In mid-May of 1948, farmers feared a frost would rob them of their fruit. Then cold weather postponed the cherry blossom tour until Sunday, May 23. No surprise there. Cherries always have kept their own schedules.

Then the harvest turned out to be a whopper, causing the price per pound to tumble.

Nowadays, the prices paid by processors are spoken in hushed terms. While the owners of fruit processing plants have always competed against each other for low-priced fruit, prices today remain under wraps long after a crop has been processed. The main reason may be that prices are never really “set” until farmers receive their last payment. Growers are often paid 10 cents a pound upon delivery, and offered an IOU for the rest at a price that has yet to be determined.

Corn and soybean prices are tabulated on a weekly basis by the United States Department of Agriculture. Not so for tart cherries.

In 1948, growers and processors had it out — kind of a family fight. They gathered at Traverse City High School on a Monday night in July — a room full of opinions affecting the economic futures of everyone there.

“An irate group of fruit farmers (were) muttering ‘boycott’ and ‘big business price fixing’,” the Enterprise reported.

Sounds like quite an evening.

But most people whose incomes relied on cherries were facing each other, and all were in the same fix.

Farmers and businessmen knew they had to work out a compromise.

They needed each other.

“After considerable bickering, (cherry growers) settled on the nine cent price for tarts. They had asked for 10 and one-half to cover higher costs of production.

“Price had reached a low of eight cents, and only through cooperation of producers and canners could it be boosted to and stabilized at nine,” the Enterprise stated.

It sounds like nobody left that room happy. But most probably left satisfied.

We give much credit to the Cherry Marketing Institute (CMI) for carving out a bigger market share through the promotion of the health benefits of our favorite fruit. The CMI has also pressed its case in Washington against the unfair trade practices of Eastern European countries, especially Turkey.

And the Cherry Industry Administrative Board is doing its best to even out supply and demand with the only effective tool at its disposal — forcing growers to destroy a portion of bumper crops.

But something’s missing in the industry. Perhaps a “close the door, we’ve got something to say” meeting between growers and processors would help.

Especially with the bankruptcy of the Cherry Growers Inc., a co-operative that was based in Traverse City, a lot of orchardists are in need of some basic information to chart their futures, and those of their family farms.

Processors face a constant battle to stay profitable. They are good folks, as are growers. While they work together to solve challenges, the industry would benefit if they talked more about the worth of a cherry.

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I fail to understand why the

I fail to understand why the writers of this article are so mystified about cherry prices. Growing and selling cherries is like any other agricultural product. Farmers have become so productive they produce more product than can be consumed by buyers. Thankfully, cherry farmers now have LIMITED protection from production losses caused by weather. Farming is a tough business and farmers are tough. Unfortunately, they are victims of the commercial success of capitalism.