“It Just Doesn’t Seem Right:” Michigan Farmer Forced to Dump 40,000 Pounds of Cherries to Make Way for Import Crops
Cherries are sold everywhere from roadside stands to stores, markets and eateries across the U.S., but not all of it ends up being used. One frustrated Traverse City farmer claims that a little known government marketing program is in essence, forcing cherry farmers to throw away huge portions of their crop, leaving it to rot in the sun. This makes way for imports from other countries to be used instead. Marc Santucci of the 80-acre Santucci farm shared the news on July 30 of this year in a Facebook post that went viral, garnering nearly 67,000 shares. “These cherries are beautiful! But, we have to dump 14% of our tart cherry crop on the ground to rot. Why? So we can allow the import of 200 million pounds of cherries from overseas! It just doesn’t seem right…”Government Order Forces Farmers to Dump Thousands $ Worth of Cherries
Mr Santucci continued his argument in the Facebook post aimed at raising awareness about an agreement imposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that he believes is outdated and harmful. “What do you think? Please share this on your Facebook page???. Just to let everyone know we are not allowed to donate or in any way use diverted cherries,” he continued on the Facebook post. “I have people who would buy them if I could sell them.”
Santucci grows about 30 acres worth of tart cherries each year, but a marketing order passed in 1937 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the Agricultural Agreement Act imposes limitations on how much can be sold in order to make way for imports, which led to the wasting of a large portion of his cherry crop. The act is a “vain attempt to prop up the price of cherries,” Santucci said to the Detroit Free Press. Perry Hedin of the Cherry Industry Administrative Board in DeWitt, MI told the Free Press:
"Cherry growers have been paid better prices over the past 20 years because of the order, which was opted into by tart cherry growers and processors in 1995."
The whole aim of the rule is to add stability to recent unpredictable yields for cherry growers. For independant, small and medium scale cherry farmers like Santucci who do not have the processing equipment, the rule can have a real impact on their livelihoods. Santucci, unlike other growers, doesn’t possess the equiptment to process his product into cherry concentrate, dried cherries, or other products with a longer shelf life. And even if he could, the cherry board is still keeping “millions of pounds” of cherry concentrate off the market that could be sold, in order to make way for imports, he said. Santucci says he has no choice but to leave their crops to rot, because he can’t process them and access to facilities that can is limited. Mr Santucci and a host of other cherry farmers are set to contine losing market share to imports from producing countries such as Turkey and Eastern Europe. He can’t sell them, and he angrily states that growers are not allowed to donate them to food pantries or shelters, either. What's worse, the CIAB sends out people to make sure they are left out to rot in order to enforce their marketing order.
“If I have to sell these excess cherries for less, I might not make that much more. But if we’re ever going to stop the increase in imports, we’ve got to compete with them head to head on every cherry we produce. If we don’t do that, we’re leaving the market wide open to them.”
The cherries that are diverted cannot be sold or given away, Santucci said in a Facebook post in response to the Free Press article. He hopes the cherry board will consider alternatives to the rule and perhaps that Congress will take up the issue.
“Dropping cherries on the ground isn’t going to change” the increasing low-cost cherry import dynamic, “and will probably only encourage it,” he said. He added in a Facebook post that he’s not trying to keep out all imports, and that farmers do receive a small payment for the cherries that they are forced to dump. He says he doesn’t want a bigger payment, he would like to see an end to the whole program, and encouraged people to write Congress asking for a change. “I posted (the photo) because I want people to know that we sometimes do stupid things in this country in attempt to do the right thing — we end up doing the wrong thing,” Santucci said to UpNorthLive.com. “Unless we can make the people who count understand and know what’s going on, we’ll never change it.” For all those that have seen the Facebook posting of literally thousands of pounds of perfectly acceptable cherries going to waste, the emotional side of the story, and the subsequent calls for a change in policy, its clear that there are huge issues that the cherry industry needs to deal with going forward.
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