It’s official: 2012 worst year on record for Michigan cherry growers

Jan 29, 2013

You probably know 2012 was just horrible for Michigan’s fruit growers. But new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows it was officially the worst on record since tracking began – in 1925.  

There were only 11.6 million pounds of tart cherries produced in Michigan, usually the nation’s top producer of the fruit. That’s a 92 percent drop from last year’s 157.5 million pounds.

Marty Saffell is a USDA statistician based in the Michigan office in Lansing.

“For some of the fruits like peaches pears plums and cherries there are the majority of the growers had essentially zero crops so there was essentially zero income,” Saffell said.

Saffell says Michigan apple growers had the worst year since 1945.

An early heat wave last spring followed by deep freeze shortly afterwards caused most of the damage.

The blueberry crop and certain strains of grapes fared much better.

Tart cherry grower Ben LaCross calls 2012 a “challenging” year. “That’s the kindest word that I’ve been able to come up with to decribe this year,” LaCross said.

His family’s farm in Leelanau County can produce more than 4 million pounds of tart cherries. But this year, there was only 250,000 pounds to pick.

“We harvested that over the course of just a couple of days,” LaCross said.

“Tart cherries aren’t eligible for crop insurance so we we’re basically left without a safety net,” LaCross said. He has insurance for sweet cherries, but tart cherries make up 75 percent of his business.

But LaCross says the devastating year allowed farmers an opportunity to convince lawmakers to include some kind of coverage by 2014.

Here's a look at how 2011 fruit crops compared to 2012:

Chart comparing crop production in Michigan from 2011 to 2012.
Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio