Michigan growers watch unusual weather ahead of cherry season

From Fresh Plaza | 12 March 2024

Overview of cherries from Michigan in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on March 11, 2024.

A winter that doesn’t always feel like winter is something Michigan cherry growers and shippers are cognisant of ahead of their cherry season. “It’s winter right now but you wouldn’t really have guessed it. We’ve had warmer than normal weather,” says Trish Taylor, marketing manager for Riveridge Produce Marketing, Inc. “The trees are still dormant so we’re just watching the weather.”

She notes that in the first week of March, Riveridge does a year-over-year examination of the weather and how the bud development is. “Right now everything is asleep as it should be and we’re not seeing any change in the trees,” says Taylor. Cherry bloom in the state generally happens towards the end of April to early May with harvest the third week of June. “Because of this weather, we’re thinking we may be a week early this year.”

What gives the grower-shipper a bit of peace of mind with the weather fluctuations is an investment it made in its growing operations after the 2022 cherry season–namely, row covers that it first used last year. “The covers are more for protecting the fruit near harvest,” she says, noting that when it rains near harvest, that can split and/or damage the fruit. “The covers drain the water down the middle. Last year when we had some cold temperatures during blossom that could negatively affect the blossoms, we unrolled the covers and kept them up and that kept the ground five degrees warmer.”

The investment paid off and in 2023, Riveridge had its largest harvest. “In blossom, I’ve also never seen so many bees but there were so many because there were so many blossoms,” says Taylor. Underneath the covers are also pellet burners which also increase the temperatures underneath the cover. “It’s a huge advantage for sweet cherries that we don’t necessarily have for apples.”

Developments ahead of the season

Other changes for Riveridge also include planting 40 more acres of sweet cherries in 2023 and this year it will plant another 50 acres, ultimately totaling some 130 acres for its growing operations though it also sells on behalf of other growers in Michigan. “We’re looking to plant cherries with good eating quality, long stems, full color and also firmer fruit for the bite,” says Taylor, adding it’s also talking with tart cherry growers to see if they are interested in transitioning to sweet cherries. To pack those cherries, the grower-shipper is also expanding its cider facility in Grant, Michigan to include a new cherry packing line ahead of the 2024 cherry season. Taylor says this makes it the only commercial cherry packer in the state.

cherry volumes by histor

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

As for demand, it will continue to be strong given it outpaces supply year over year. “This is why we’re making this investment in acreage. We have so many markets near us with demand and the bulk of cherries are grown on the West Coast. However Michigan has a climate that allows us to grow good quality sweet cherries here,” says Taylor.

Looking ahead, growers are on watch for Michigan spring and potential frosts which could impact the cherry bloom as well as rains before harvest. “We’re also mindful of the labor as well–cherries are harvested manually and they’re very delicate. Michigan is also a higher paying labor state so growers are concerned about all of that,” says Taylor.

The News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.

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