Northern Michigan Cherries: First, the bad: this year’s Michigan cherry crop took a big hit. “I wish I had better news. It’s a little bleak out there,” says Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station and district extension horticulture educator in Traverse City. Second, some not-so-bad: despite our early-season warm-up and subsequent frost that led to significant crop loss—total Michigan tart cherry crop is estimated at 12.5 million pounds, far below 2011’s crop of 157.5 million pounds—Michigan cherries are available locally this summer. Third, some positive: Rothwell sees the devastating blow to the industry (apples, peaches and juice grapes also took a hit) bringing farmers, community leaders and researchers together like never before to figure out ways to possibly prevent such losses moving forward. More from Rothwell:

Our state produces 75 to 80 percent of the nation’s tart cherries. Has this kind of crop loss happened to us before?

1945 was not very good and was similar to this—we saw an early warm up. In 2002, we had almost a total crop loss in tart cherries. I think the difference between 2002 and 2012, in addition to tart cherries, is we’ve lost sweet cherries and the whole state has lost the majority of its peaches and apples—30 to 40 percent of crop of apples. Fruit crops in Michigan, most of them don’t look very good. But blueberries look OK, wine grapes are looking really excellent. But for tart cherries, sweet cherries, apples, peaches and juice grapes—it’s really devastating.

But it’s not all gloom and doom, right?

I think our growers are really paying attention to the health of their trees this year and concentrating on keeping trees healthy for 2013. We have the potential to set a really good crop next year since this is how the cycles go, and I think that’s what growers are remaining optimistic about. We’re also trying to figure it all out as a community. We’ve been fortunate to have Senator Debbie Stabenow here and Senator Carl Levin here [in June] and these are people who are looking at how can they help farmers and growers. Bob Sutherland [of Cherry Republic] has been very supportive. There’s a real community spirit when you have a crop loss like this.

What exactly can help the situation?

We’re thinking about what we call risk- management tools. Is it a wind machine [to help circulate the cold air that can settle in lowest part of an orchard], crop insurance, irrigation strategies? Right now tart cherry growers don’t have a way to recoup losses—there’s no crop insurance for them. Lawmakers like Senator Stabenow, who is a really strong proponent of specialty crops, are drafting language for the 2012 Farm Bill.

And we can look forward to enjoying sweet cherries this summer …

Yes, there’s still at least a quarter of a crop of sweet cherries.

This article was first featured in August 2012 Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine. Click here to order your copy!