Opinion | We have an agricultural crisis in Michigan. Action is required now.

Isaiah Wunsch (from left), of Wunsch Farms, serves on the Peninsula Township Board of Trustees; Nels Veliquette is vice president and chief financial officer of Cherries R Us/Cherry Ke and serves on the board of directors of Board of Shoreline Fruit LLC; Dennis Arouca serves on the board of directors of Grand Traverse Economic Development Corp. and is a senior adviser to ACRE AgTech

“Crisis” is defined as a dangerous time in which solutions are needed—-and quickly. 

We have a crisis in the tart cherry industry, and we offer three solutions for quick action.

Fruit growing and processing is important to our regional economy.  Tart cherries are just one segment, with a farm gate crop value of $75 million a year, over 500 families, an extensive supply chain, and 21st-century manufacturing capabilities.  For the fourth year in a row, crop prices are below production costs, fueled in part by unfair trade practices from Turkey. While farmers are reluctant to complain, the pain is real.  Many farm families in our area could face foreclosure; extreme financial pressures mean hard choices, and increased farmland development risk, permanently altering one of the strongest reasons to live and work here.


Here are our three solutions:

1. Level the playing field for tart cherry growers

The USDA responded to farmers suffering from trade by adopting a Market Facilitation Program in 2018, authorizing temporary support payments.  

Tart cherry growers were not included.  

The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture can correct this error with a stroke of the pen, freeing up $60 million to stem the bleeding.  Domestic rice also was left out of the program initially, an error corrected in early 2019. The dried tart cherry federal trade complaint — if it is successful — will not result in action until 2020, and relief is limited by law to prospective changes only.  

2. Convene all the stakeholders on a recovery plan

Relief from near term trade woes is no long-term solution if the problem cries out for increased demand/new product development, transition to new crops, or modernized farm practices.   Convening and leading dialogue is one of the responsibilities of Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which can get growers, processors, lenders, suppliers, government, MSU Extension, educators, commodity group leaders, and others, together - under a deadline —on  an Industry Recovery Plan, identifying root causes, and short- and long-term steps.  

3. Accelerate innovation 

The fruit industry mostly consists of small and medium-size companies who know they must continually innovate or perish, but struggle for resources.  

ACRE AgTech is Michigan’s first and only agricultural business accelerator. As a nonprofit, its mission is simply to assist Michigan agriculture and support entrepreneurs who serve the vital MI agribusiness sector.  ACRE AgTech’s first cohort of early-stage AgTech companies will be in the Grand Traverse Region meeting stakeholders Oct. 1-4, and more than 20 leaders are participating, including us. ACRE AgTech is an important tool for the industry, and we encourage others to join us.  For more information, see www.acreagtech.com 

We have the capability to address the current crisis, but it needs group action on several fronts, and we first need the will to take action.

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middle of the mit
Thu, 10/03/2019 - 8:19pm

I hope most of our Michigan farmers are big ag. If you are looking for help from the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Purdue, he said this just the other day.


Ag secretary: No guarantee small dairy farms will survive

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters following an appearance at the World Dairy Expo in Madison that it's getting harder for farmers to get by on milking smaller herds.

"In America, the big get bigger and the small go out," Perdue said. "I don't think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability."

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 9:30am

It is interesting, even in desperation [at least that is what the headline describes] and the list of three solutions there is an obvious omission. There is no inclusion or consideration for the consumer, there is nothing about what the consumer wants or may want, there is nothing about how to increase demand for the cherries, there is no mention of the consumer [we don't matter to farmers].
Why should we, as consumers, care about the plight of the tart cherry supply chain if they don't care about us?

Dennis Arouca N...
Sat, 10/05/2019 - 5:42am

Thanks for comment. Consumers /customers are top of mind. That is what new product development is all about, which happens after listening to customers' evolving preferences and figuring out how farmers- and cherries- can meet that need. Might require crop diversification.

Sat, 10/05/2019 - 2:05pm

If it takes a comment from a consumer to remind you we are also readers, that raises doubts about what is the top priority.
You may want to create a shirt pocket size card for each Board member that lists the top three or four points your audiences will be interested in, and at the top of the card should be the consumer [without us the rest doesn't matter]. I would also encourage you to mention product ideas that are being developed.

Sat, 10/05/2019 - 2:09pm

Offer some organic options.

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 9:32am

I just read this opinion piece in the Detroit News and thought it needs some exploration, maybe by the Truth Squad.


A quick Google search found this:

The News opinion piece claims more transparency is causing confusion and hurting the poor. While the piece is supposed to be about "organic" labeling, it starts by ranting on the surge in plant-based products and their marketing, making weak claims like it's fraudulent to use the word "milk" for nondairy products. Well, what should we call "coconut milk"? He says it's fraudulent to say "vegan bacon", assuming that he thinks people will unfairly believe it is a pork product. However, people who opt for "vegan" food, specifically do not want to eat products derived from animals. They may merely want something similar in flavor or texture to something they used to eat, without the health problems. Lastly, people who do not want to eat GMO frankenfoods or Monsanto's pesticides, which have been proven to cause cancer, do care if even a little bit of glyphosate is sprayed on their food. BTW glyphosate, originally marketed as an antibiotic, also causes obesity because when eaten on our food, it kills our good gut bacteria and feeds our bad gut bacteria. That messes with our nutrient absorption and metabolism resulting in fat storage.

The truth is that consumers are increasingly making better healthier choices that also address the climate crisis and animal cruelty. Instead of producers changing to give consumers what they want, like more and more businesses are doing, lobbyists are blocking consumer choices by pretending to care for the poor. The truth is just the opposite. The poor are the biggest victims, especially when greedy evil forces try to hide the truth. Glyphosate should be banned in the US, but chemical manufactures lobby to keep it legal, just like PFAS. When those lobbyists win, we all lose.

Talk with your friends and neighbors; write to your representatives; and most of all VOTE for people who share YOUR family values. Let's truly make our state a Pure Michigan destination to visit, live, work, and play for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and our humanity.

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 9:44am

Despite Trump's efforts trying to destroy our economy (especially small and medium farms) with unilateral reckless trade wars, the rising middle class in China is now greater than the total US population.


Millions of wealthy Chinese consumers would gladly pay a lot more for Michigan cherries over other cherries on the world market, if they were ORGANIC. Otherwise, why would they bother? They don't want to feed their children food sprayed with glyphosate and irrigated with PFAS.


Imagine if the people of Michigan had the opportunity to buy Organic cherries too! Sadly, we can't seem to find them much.

Ayn Randy
Fri, 10/04/2019 - 10:21am

Why do we taxpayers have to subsidize farmers who plant things that people don't want to buy, especially when those farmers are victims of a president they gleefully elected believing in the righteousness of his protectionist trade war?

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 1:41pm

Where's the post about the Chinese middle class?