Future of farming in Antrim County uncertain, at best

Linda Gallagher, Contributing Writer

Photo by Linda Gallagher

Antrim County farmers, unlike a Grand Traverse County fruit producer who recently dumped much of his cherry crop on the ground and put his properties up for sale, are not yet ready to give up on what for many has been a multi-generational livelihood. However, without major hikes in the production price of crops such as cherries, many may consider doing so soon.

CENTRAL LAKE – Producers in Antrim County are not yet, like Ray Fouch of Old Mission Peninsula in Grand Traverse County, walking away from what, for many, is a long heritage of farming over many generations. Nor are any known to be planning, right now, to list their property on the market and watch it become a subdivision.

But that could change – for some, as early as in the next few years.

"Right now, without some major changes on the part of our industry and our government, it could be right around the corner," said Central Lake area farmer Greg Shooks. 

Shooks, who with other members of his family, has a 150-acre orchard of both sweet and tart cherries, said that the family dumped 300,000 pounds of cherries on the ground this year, leaving them to rot.

"This year, like last year, it cost more to produce the cherries than we could sell them for. There's just no market," he added earlier this week while shaking the last of the family's cherry crop off the trees.

The very low price of just 14 to 15 cents a pound for fresh tart cherries is primarily due to massive imports of fruit from the Middle Eastern country of Turkey, which is currently heavily subsidizing its cherry producers, allowing them to flood international markets like the U.S. and China with cheap dried cherries. In 2018, more than 756 tons of dried cherries entered the U.S. from Turkey, drastically lowering the price processors were willing to pay to American producers like the Shooks family.

Calling the imports an "attack" on the nationwide cherry industry – with Michigan at the forefront accounting for 75 percent of the nation’s tart cherry production – several processors from around the state joined together last spring to file a petition through the U.S. Commerce Department and International Trade Commission against Turkey, claiming that allowing Turkey's cherry products to come into the U.S. is a violation of international trade agreements.

Preliminary indications are that the trade commission will hear the case – making producers like Shooks, along with Karen and Kevin Bargy of Kewadin, hopeful that an agreement can be reached that will save the livelihood of Michigan's cherry farmers.

But it may not come in time for all.

Read the full story in our regular edition of The Review. To subscribe to the paper for just $34 a year, which includes access to our full online e-edition, please go to the subscription page on this website at: http://www.antrimreview.net/subscribe/



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