By Philip J. Korson II
---- — With another successful National Cherry Festival in the books, it should come as no surprise why Traverse City, and Northern Michigan, have been home to this wonderful celebration of America's super fruit for 86 years. Michigan cherry farmers are capable of producing 75 percent of the nation's entire supply of cherries and represent a very substantial part of Michigan agriculture.
The warm winter and cold spring conditions, however, have made this a very tough year for cherry growers. It is estimated the crop will yield about 2 percent of the usual amount of cherries, which will have a large impact on farmers, processors, marketers, truckers and retail operations.
Thankfully, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who chairs the Agriculture Committee in the Senate, has been leading the effort to provide emergency relief and support for Michigan cherry growers and other fruit producers who have been devastated by recent frosts and freezes. She secured an emergency disaster declaration from the U.S. Department of Agriculture making low-interest loans available to cherry and other fruit growers to help in the short run.
For tart cherry growers, the severe weather would not have been as devastating if they had access to a crop insurance policy.
Fortunately, Sen. Stabenow wrote a new Farm Bill, which passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support, to help qualifying tart cherry growers and other fruit growers who do not have access to crop insurance. It also helps protect growers from similar weather disasters in the future by making crop insurance policies available to producers who do not have them. To help farmers who experienced significant tree damage, the Farm Bill provides assistance through the Tree Assistance Initiative for 2012 and beyond.
This support would not have been possible without Chairwoman Stabenow bringing lawmakers together in a rare show of bipartisanship to pass the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades, saving taxpayers over $23 billion dollars. She is the only Committee Chairperson in Congress to successfully bring together colleagues on both sides of the aisle to author new legislation that substantially cuts spending.
She put an end to outdated, unaffordable farm subsidy programs that give farmers government checks even in years when they don't take a loss. Instead, these reforms will provide farmers with a responsible risk management system tied to the marketplace that will help protect farmers from bankruptcy from weather disaster.
The Farm Bill also consolidates and streamlines programs while strengthening important initiatives like the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which helps Michigan cherry farmers market their products and funds critical research to support jobs in the fruit and vegetable industry.
Agriculture has been critical to Michigan's continued economic recovery. Failure to pass a new Farm Bill before the current bill expires in September would have a devastating effect on our economy and put Michigan agricultural jobs at risk.
Michigan is fortunate that Chairwoman Stabenow was able to pass a new Farm Bill with broad bipartisan support so our cherry industry and agricultural sector can continue to thrive.
About the author: Philip J. Korson is president and managing director of the Cherry Marketing Institute, a national promotion, research and market development program funded by U.S. tart cherry growers since 1995. He is also the Executive Director of the Michigan Cherry Committee and Michigan Association of Cherry Producers since 1988.