The chilly spring might not have been ideal for most Traverse City locals, but it’s been perfect for at least one thing: the local cherry crop. According to Ben LaCross of the Leelanau Fruit Company, this summer should see a superb cherry harvest, thanks in part to the slow transition into warmer spring weather.
“In the cherry business, we always like a long, slow warm-up, and that’s definitely what we’re getting this spring,” LaCross says. “It looks like we are going to produce a very healthy and robust crop of cherries this year. I think quality should be great and I think quantity should be great.”
But the mid-July through mid-August harvest window isn't the only thing on the minds of local cherry growers. LaCross says U.S. cherry prices have dipped from 25 cents per pound in 2014 to between 13 and 15 cents per pound last year. The break-even point is around 22 cents per pound, which means most domestic cherry growers actually lost money on every pound of cherries they produced in 2018.
The problem is foreign imports – primarily from Turkey -- which LaCross says are flooding the market and drastically lowering the market price of cherries. The Turkish government heavily subsidizes its cherry growers, enabling those growers to sell into the U.S. market far below the cost of production. Domestic farmers then face a dilemma: keep prices above the break-even point and cede market share, or drop prices to stay competitive and absorb big losses.