Pending foreign cherry tariffs good news for area producers

By: 
Linda Gallagher, Contributing Writer

Courtesy photo 

Pictured is a cherry shaker removing ripe tart cherries from trees in a local orchard. Much of this year's crop from western Michigan, including cherries produced by Antrim County growers, was dumped on the ground and left to rot due to Turkish imports of cherries that had drastically reduced the market for local producers. It's hoped that tariffs recently proposed by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission may level the field after growers filed a lawsuit last spring.

 

CENTRAL LAKE – Antrim County's tart cherry producers got some good news last week when the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a preliminary schedule for tariffs on importers of foreign tart cherries.

In response to a lawsuit filed in April with the International Trade Commission – if given the expected final approval this winter – its hoped that the tariffs will curtail the current flood of government-subsidized dried tart cherries coming into the U.S. from the Middle Eastern country of Turkey in the last few years.

The announcement came as good news to local producers like Greg Shooks of Shooks Farms in Central Lake, whose family has raised and sold tart cherries to the wholesale processing market for many years.

"The tariffs are really better for the American cherry industry as a whole than for the individual producer, but in a roundabout way, we're hopeful that this will help us as well," said Shooks.

With a large inventory of frozen cherries in storage across the country and almost no demand for fresh fruit, Shooks Farms dumped half of its tart cherry crop on the ground this year, which added up to more than 300,000 pounds of wasted fruit, Shooks said, who noted that most wholesale cherry producers in the Grand Traverse region were forced to do the same.

"There was no market at all for tart cherries this year," said Shooks. "Nobody wanted them. And we had to get the cherries off to avoid damage to the trees."

Nationally, more than 18 million pounds of cherries were dumped on the ground this year, according to data released by the International Trade Commission. Much of that occurred in western Michigan, the second largest tart cherry producing area in the country.

The lawsuit filed last spring by the Dried Tart Cherry Trade Committee – which consists of Cherry Central Cooperative and Shoreline Fruit LLC, both of Traverse City, Graceland Fruit Inc. and Smeltzer Orchard Co. of Frankfort, and Payson Fruit Growers Coop of Payson, Utah – contended that Turkey had been exporting its dried tart cherry product for approximately four times less than what U.S. growers were marketing their product for wholesale.

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