Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Souring of Sour Cherry Farming in Michigan.

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Agriculture, Society, Sustainability

Ed Hessler

The headline below from the StarTribune business section for August 20, 2023 caught my attention. The photograph at the top --a page wide -- of an orchard in Michigan also drew me in. I was led me to speculate, assume I knew what was ahead.  I didn't The headline:

"Michigan Cherry Farmers Abandoning Business." 
The reporting, reprinted in the Star Tribune is by Candice Williams of the Detroit News.

You probably know where I'm going with respect to the cause. I thought of global change, particularly climate change.

It is due to local and global changes but ones very easily overlooked by most of us as we go about our business.

The list can be reduced to two: "weather concerns and competition from imports that have driven down -- and in some cases eliminated --- profits for tart cherry farmers."

At one time Michigan was the top tart cherry producer but in 2012, writes Williams, the "tart cherry crop harvest was low, blamed on bad weather." The result was that "U.S. processors turned to imports to fill the gap." "Julie Gordon, president at the Cherry Marketing Institute in Dewitt, Mich," noted that "most of our processors went back to domestic product, but then some of them did not. ... Over the years, it's just increased."

What happens when the decision is made by farmers  to "stop growing cherries is that they remove the trees from their orchards so they don't become a haven for insects and diseases that would impact other farmers." Other factors have come into play as well, e.g., "invasive species...suburban sprawl, markets that favor imports with their support of low prices, etc.... ... making it more economically feasible to develop the land." 

The reporting is sprinkled throughout with comments from others including farmers, one a "fourth generation farmer, John Pulcipher" who went out of business and Doug White, a neighbor who lives close by who is also "exiting the business."  
White puts it plainly "'Business has changed. I guess I need to move on. The margins aren't there" as Pulcipher also noted. White has some ideas and hopes for how the land might be used which depend on investors, one of which will still  allow "'people (to) come and enjoy the views that I've had over 35 years." The photograph gracing this article give you an idea of just how lovely that view is.

Sour cherry farmers have very few options. 
Who knows whether and for how long current conditions will be stable. It is not hard to imagine changes in some of these variables, e.g., tariff regulations, unforeseen supply chain changes, the energy costs of importing sour cherries as well as such costs in the domestic distribution network. You can imagine others. Our global interdependence in just one of these--farming practices, new environmental regulations, a series of bad weather, climate change could lead to much deeper and wide-ranging problems.

The Star Tribune article is protected by a paywall but here is the full story from ArcaMax. It  includes a smaller image of that view overlooking Lake Michigan.

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