More than 40,000 pounds of tart cherries have been dumped in the Traverse City, Michigan in order to make more space for cherry imports.
Farmers from the northwest part of Michigan (dubbed as the “Cherry Capital of the World”) are the most famous and the largest producers of cherries in the U.S.
However according to a frustrated farmer from Traverse City, a small government marketing program has recently been forcing cherry farmers to dump a large portion of their crops and letting it sit on the sun to rot. According to the farmer, they’re doing this on purpose so they can make way for imported cherries from other countries to be used instead.
The farmer who shared the news was Marc Santucci, who happens to own an 80-acre farm. He shared the news on July 30 through a Facebook post, which eventually went viral, reaching over 70,000 people.
Farmers claim that the cherries are beautiful and that it is a complete waste that they have to dump as much as 14% of their cherries to rot.
A Government Order Forces the Farmers to Dump Thousands Worth of Cherries
The farmer Santucci’s Facebook post raised quite a lot of awareness about an agreement by U.S Department of Agriculture that is outdated and harmful.
Santucci continued to explain how people were offering him money for the cherries he produces, but he couldn’t sell them since it was for the country. On his Facebook post he urges people to spread the word about this injustice towards the thousands worth of cherries that are being literally thrown away.
The cherries Santucci produces are tart cherries. They have a short shelf life and according to a marketing order passed in 1937 by the U.S Department of Agriculture, limitations on how much tart cherries can be sold were set. This was bad news for Santucci back then, and it is now as well, since he grows 30 acres of the tart cherries, throwing out a large portion.
However another side of the story told by Perry Heidin of the Cherry Industry Administrative Board in DeWitt, MI told the press that the cherry growers have been paid higher prices for the cherries in these past 20 years because of the order.
However this isn’t the case when it comes to small independent cherry farmers like Santucci who don’t have the necessary processing equipment. They don’t have the ability to process the products into dried cherries or cherry concentrate or even other cherry products with longer shelf life. And even if he found a way to make cherry concentrate, the cherry board is keeping lots of pounds of cherry concentrate off the market to make way for imports. This leaves Santucci with no other choice then to leave the crops to rot.
Cherry producers vote on the order every 5 years but Santucci doesn’t hope for anything since larger cherry producers with their own equipment benefit from this order and continue to vote for it. This is however, bad news for the farmers.
That means that in the meanwhile, Santucci along with other cherry farmers are going to lose market share to imports from Eastern Europe and Turkey. He can’t use them nor sell them, only let them rot. They can’t even donate the cherries to shelters. The CIAB sends people to check and make sure that the cherries rot.
The cherries get diverted and therefore cannot be given away or sold, says Santucci in his facebook post. He hopes that the cherry board will consider other alternatives to this rule and pass on the issue to the Congress.
He says he’s not trying to keep away imports, and that farmers receive a small payment for their dumped cherries.
He doesn’t want a bigger payment, but what he says he wants is to see an end to the whole program. He wants people to know that sometimes, they do absurd things in this country while trying to do the right thing – they do the exact opposite.
Michigan Farm Publication Responds to his claims
In response to the national outcry over Santucci’s post over the cherry marketing program, the editor of Michigan Farm News – Paul W. Jackson, wrote an editorial piece that addresses his believes to be misconceptions about the issue.
In his response he stated how the program was established by a majority vote of tart cherry growers that agreed upon the decision. He also stated that the growers themselves enforce the rule for the betterment of the cherry industry as a whole, while benefiting a big number of cherry growers – even the ones that don’t agree with the rule.
He also included a historical example of how the prices have remained stable because of this order.
He mentioned how in 1988 when the organ was called the “Cherry Administrative Board” the growers voted to eliminate the marketing order and précis began to follow a rollercoaster which eventually led the cherry prices to fall into single figures, making growers go out of business.
He also said that Santucci’s statements how the cherries cannot be donated are untrue. The only thing that would be a bit difficult for farmers like Santucci is getting access to processing facilities.
Robson stated how the farmers are free to use the cherries for research, development or even preparing cherry pies and donating them to charity. However the cherries must be first processed since they are tart cherries.
He added that the cherry processors make a decision to ask farmers to dump their cherries, and that the dumping of the cherries doesn’t occur directly because of the marketing order.
However to everyone that has seen the thousands of Facebook posts about perfectly good cherries being dumped and thrown to waste, along with the emotional aspect of the story and the calls for change make it a serious issue that the cherry industry has to deal with. For now, we’re left to decide on our own which side are we going to take on this issue, whether the side of the damaged farmers or the side of the government.