After a devastating season last year, cherry growers in northern Michigan are looking forward to a promising harvest.
As families prepare for their Independence Day cookouts, having fresh fruit is something we often take for granted. It’s not for some Michigan farmers after such a difficult go in 2012. This year’s crop looks to have a happier ending, as fruit-laden cherry trees line the roads in northern Michigan. After such a trying year in 2012, 2013 is a welcome change.
"We went last year with a complete crop freeze-out. We only harvested about 2% of our normal crop last year," says Ben LaCross, who is a fruit producer in Cedar, Mich., which is just outside of Traverse City.
He wasn’t alone. Fruit farmers all across Michigan saw unusually warm temperatures reach the 80s in March. The trees bloomed early and a freeze hit late, making it a year for the record books.
"I have never seen a year like that," says Daryl Shooks, who raises cherries in Central Lake, Mich. "I've heard about it. My dad used to talk about the year they couldn't find enough for a cherry pie. Well, I’ve seen one now, and I hope to never see another one."
While northern Michigan residents complained about the long, cold winter, area farmers knew it signaled a promising year.
"That's the way we like it in the fruit business," LaCross says. "The longer we can stay cool in the springtime, the less we have to worry about those freezes and frosts that hurt us so much in 2012."
The Shooks are expecting a slightly above-average crop this year, bringing in a total of 2 million pounds of both sweet and tart cherries. Northern Michigan is a huge growing area for tart cherries, accounting for half the tart cherries produced in the United States.
"We are super excited to have an abundant crop this year, so everyone get ready to eat a lot of cherry pie, because there's a lot of fruit out there," says Daryl’s son, Greg Shooks.
While farmers are all smiles this year, they are still feeling the lasting effects of no crop in 2012. Without a safety net in place, no fruit meant no income.
"Luckily in the state of Michigan, our state legislature stepped up and helped buy down some points for some low interest loans that fruit farmers could get last year to be able to withstand last year's freeze," says Lacross.