Erratic Weather Is No Bowl Of Cherries: Michigan Copes With Stunted Crop

by Margaret Francis, via Planet Change

The cherry: a little scarlet globe of sweet pleasure. This time of year, those of us in Michigan eagerly anticipate stopping by our local fruit farm in search of this tiny, flavorful vermillion prize.

Last week I excitedly searched my utensil drawer to dig out my coveted cherry pitter for its annual exercise of de-pitting 10-pound boxes of this favorite fruit for canning and freezing to sustain me through the long winter. My head was afloat in sweet thoughts of jams, pies and other good treats I would make.

With over half a million expected attendees this week at one of the state’s largest gatherings — the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City― we cherry-lovers face a sad scenario: the Michigan cherry crop has been devastated and our erratic weather is to blame.

A freakishly warm March jump-started the growing season causing trees to blossom early, and then subsequent typical freezes in April blasted the young buds. As a result, the cherry crop was decimated: A 90 percent loss in the tart and 80 percent loss in the sweet varieties. Prices rose 40 percent. Because fruit was so sparse, much of it had to be hand-picked instead of using shakers, an increased labor cost which may have added to prices. Festival goers will eat mostly local cherries, but they will be supplemented by cherries from Washington and Poland.

What we’re seeing in Michigan may likely be part of a larger issue. Carbon pollution is warming our Earth, causing increasingly erratic weather, including earlier springs and more frequent droughts, floods and heat waves. One study by a Nature Conservancy scientist found global warming has the potential to greatly reduce temperate fruit and nut crop yields (including cherries), resulting in losses of $93 billion annually, and impacting the ability of growers in some regions to produce the same array of crops as they have in the past.

This week the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it will offer assistance to fruit farmers in nearly all of the state’s affected counties. The impacts may not only be local: Michigan supplies 75 percent of the country’s tart cherries, which are used in many food products, and 20 percent of the sweet kind.

The last time Michigan’s cherry crop was hurt badly was in 2002, and prior to that, 50 years earlier. Although this year’s extreme spring weather may have been an anomaly, some scientists say that warmer temperatures, wetter conditions and more erratic weather events linked to a changing climate could impact Michigan’s crops, making me fret about the long-term fate of the precious local cherry.

I made that anticipated call to my fruit farm to inquire if cherries were available and this year’s price: $42 for a box of the sweet kind versus $28 per box last year. Yikes! Talk about climate change hitting my pocketbook.

As I face the economic dilemma of paying significantly more for my cherries, I bitterly stifle my urge with hopes that next year’s crop will be better, and back goes my pitter to the drawer. Let’s just say erratic weather is the pits.

Margaret Francis is Assistant Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Great Lakes Project. This piece was originally published at the Nature Conservancy’s Planet Change and was reprinted with permission.

4 Responses to Erratic Weather Is No Bowl Of Cherries: Michigan Copes With Stunted Crop

  1. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I seem to recall some luminary, possibly Lovelock when he was not quite so muddled and prone to play up to the tabloids, predicting a period of increasing climate instability before a jump to a new steady-state. I’m not sure if that was in the case of GHG emissions stabilising, which, of course, isn’t going to happen if the omnicidal Right have anything to do with it. The water is really starting to bubble around the brainless frogs, and they just keep on croaking as ever.

  2. Merrelyn Emery says:

    You have a wonderful new line in birthday and Christmas presents Margaret. When all our bananas were wiped out and prices rose astronomically, a banana became a special offering for very special occasions. Quality of life is marked by appreciating the little things and celebrating them with others, ME

  3. btw. Skeptical Science has a new article on the possible main driver of climate state change.

    New research special – methane papers 2010-2011

    This plotting alone should be enough for immediate large actions.

  4. Lionel A says:

    Well, as Tillerson claims ‘we can adapt’ by by eating something else. But hang on, corn is down, apples are down, oranges are threatened by changes in California (too hot) and Florida (too wet and inundated by brackish water as sea levels rise) and meat is down as stock animals are harder to feed.

    Here in the UK I am old enough, just, to remember rationing of many foodstuffs and in particular any using sugar. Sweets and chocolate (candy to you) were rationed and the small quantity occasionally enjoyed was a real treat.

    Fruit too was in short supply, and as you say bananas were a real occasional treat as were oranges when the boats came in.

    There was always a rush for mushrooms as they became available – but then they tasted real good unlike the modern cultivated varieties where you have to see it before eating it to realise that you are eating mushroom.

    Soft fruits too were a rare delicacy. My grandfather had wonderful displays of raspberries and loganberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants too. We spent hours in our garden as children picking blackcurrants and gooseberries (Ouch! Ouch) and then more hours topping and tailing them. But the result was brilliant fresh fruits and then pies and jams, funny how real gooseberry jam is red in colour. Somehow those grown commercially these days rarely taste so good. The flavour of fresh picked and shucked peas and broad beans is another taste relegated to distant memory.

    The sad thing is that the crop of raspberries that we may have enjoyed from our garden plot is ruined by heavy rains and gales of wind – rotted on their canes. The local strawberry crops too, except for one short period, have been all but swamped. Plastic tunnelling cannot stop the water coming up from below. Apples and pears over here too are going to be short.

    We can adapt. Plenty of earthworms. Perhaps I’ll send Tillerson a sample.