Jul 2, 2012
Editor’s letter: Insure tart cherries

Tart cherries need to be insured.

Phil Korson, director of the Cherry Marketing Institute, is doing his best to make that happen.

Terrible weather did substantial damage to the tart cherry crops in Michigan, New York state and Wisconsin this year. The U.S. crop estimate is 70 million to 75 million pounds, one of the smallest crops ever, according to the Cherry Industry Administrative Board.

The impact of the weather will leave many cherry growers with reduced revenues and, in some cases, no revenue. That’s unfortunate, because last year, tart cherry sales hit 268 million pounds – and, before the freezes, the industry was on track to hit at least 260 million pounds in sales this year, according to Korson.

But even when there is no fruit to harvest, tart cherry growers still have to bear the cost of taking care of their orchards – with no help from federal crop insurance.

Most agricultural crops have some form of insurance available to them, Korson said, and it should be made a priority for cherries in the 2012 Farm Bill. Growers need the option of buying crop insurance to protect their operations from weather events that are out of their control.

Korson isn’t sure why tart cherries aren’t insured, but based on discussions he had with representatives of USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) last winter, he got the impression that the tart cherry industry’s marketing order might be the reason. He sent RMA, which manages federal crop insurance policies, some responses to the concerns, but he never heard back from any representatives. Several months later the industry is facing a disaster, and it’s not any closer to its own crop insurance policy.

“We’re trying to figure out what the issues are,” Korson said.

He doesn’t understand why the marketing order would be a problem. It controls the supply of tart cherries but has no bearing on production. Production is the factor that’s relevant to crop insurance, he said.

“Supply and production are two different things.”

It’s critical for tart cherry growers to have access to crop insurance in 2013. The industry is pushing RMA to make that happen. Korson is optimistic it will.

“Our industry can’t stand another year without some kind of risk management tool,” he said.

Sweet cherries have been covered by a pilot insurance program since 1999, but only two counties in Michigan – Grand Traverse and Leelanau – can participate. The pilot also covers sweet cherries out west, in states like Washington, Oregon and California, Korson said.

Korson doesn’t know why the sweet cherry program is still in the pilot stage 13 years later. He’d like to see a permanent insurance program, expanded to cover sweet and tart cherries across the country.

By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor





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