All The Farm That Is Fit To Print

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cherry Harvest beginning this week in Leelanau

By Bill O'Brien

WILLIAMSBURG -- Mother Nature doesn't check the local events calendar as she ripens northern Michigan's cherry crop, and this year things are a bit behind schedule.

The National Cherry Festival kicked off this weekend, but most northern Michigan growers are still waiting to pick their first cherries of the season. A cool and sometimes wet spring delayed the sweet cherry harvest, and pushed the start of the larger tart cherry season to at least mid-July.

"I would say we're about a week behind what we'd normally see," said Dennis Hoxsie, a sweet and tart cherry grower whose family farm market is a seasonal mainstay along M-72 in Acme Township.

Hoxsie hopes to start picking his early sweets over the weekend. Even with the tardy crop he said there will be local cherries available for the weeklong celebration of the region's signature fruit.

"We'll have fresh fruit for the Cherry Festival," he said.

In the meantime, cherries for the event are coming from the Oceana County cherry belt near Hart and Pentwater, festival spokeswoman Susan Wilcox Olson said, until local growers start to bring in their fruit.

"We're relying on Michigan cherries first, while the fruit from the three- to five-county area fills in," she said. "They're usually pretty good about getting (the cherries) in here as soon as they get them off the trees."

The sweet cherry harvest in Leelanau County should start by the end of this week, said Al Steimel, general manager of Leelanau Fruit along M-22 near Suttons Bay.

"It's not quite ready yet," Steimel said last week.

It's shaping up as a so-so season for area cherry growers. The projected tart cherry crop for northwest Michigan totals 75 million pounds, down more than 40 percent from last year's robust harvest and expected to be the lowest yield in six years. The statewide crop is forecast at 135 million pounds, down 30 percent from last year.

The smaller sweet cherry crop fared better, estimated at 25,000 tons statewide, down about 8 percent from last year.

Some farms were hurt by widespread frost this spring, while others were pelted by hail in recent thunderstorms that rumbled across the region. Hoxsie said the yield from his orchards is decent, but some of the fruit is scarred from the spring frost and hail damage.

"The quantity seems to be pretty good," he said. "In terms of quality, we've had a couple different challenges this year."

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