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.
- Good news for Michigan cherry industry. Bad news for Turkey.
- A summer of despair for Michigan's cherry growers
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.