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Cherry Capital of the U.S. Faces Threat From Turkish Imports



WILLIAMSBURG, Mich.-Dorance Amos pulls her handfuls of tart red cherries out of large tanks filled with cold water, looking for blemishes. "They will grade well," he says.

The apparent bounty hides and grim reality: He has not made a profit in three years. Amos is one of many Michigan tart-cherry farmers struggling with a flood of low-price dried cherries from Turkey. The industry petitioned the U.S. government to impose duties on imports, claiming Turkish importers undercut the fruit and the Turkish government unfairly subsidizes the industry. The U.S. the government said in June that there was enough evidence to proceed with an investigation

"If we do not have the luck with the tariffs, I do not know how any of us can survive," Mr. Amos said.

Dorance Amos, managing partner at Amos Farms, stands near trees of tart cherries in Williamsburg, Mich. Mr. Amos is one of many Michigan tart-cherry farmers struggling to make a profit.

The Montmorency cherries grown around Traverse City, nestled along Lake Michigan's Traverse Bay, about four hours northwest of Detroit. The region has crowned itself the cherry capital of the US, where it supplies two-thirds of the country's supply of tart cherries. It has been produced in Michigan last year, with about 300 million pounds of tart cherries worth about $ 56 million. Almost the same amount was worth $ 107 million in 2014, according to USDA data. Tart cherries are used for pie filling and juice or are dried and put into cereal and breakfast bars. Neat rows of cherry trees resembling Mediterranean groves line the highways around the region. The sandy loam soil and proximity to Lake Michigan, which moderates the climate, creates a rich ground for the fruit to grow. Tart cherries are a small crop compared to the much larger sweet cherry industry, which produced 344,400 tonnes of fruit in 2018 worth $ 638 million.

The tart cherry industry collectively agrees to freeze or destroy a percentage of their crops annually to ensure price stability for the overall market. Some Michigan processors – the companies that pit, freeze and dry the cherries – are now selling old inventory of frozen cherries at discounted prices because keeping them is too expensive due to the flood of cheap Turkish product. That's even more low-cost cherries on the market.

A fourth generation of Michigan cherry farmer, Mr. Amos mowed down 60 acres of tart-cherry trees last year because the harvesting of the fruit was more expensive than selling it

He's not sure what he'll be doing this year. He's hoping he has enough money to harvest the rest of his 375 acres, which is done by applying a mechanical shaker to a tree.

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If he can not harvest all the fruit, he might have to abandon some of his orchards, and practice that can allow pests to fester and make their way to nearby trees and neighbors farms. Turkish imports of tart dried cherries have almost doubled annually over the last three years to 1.5 million pounds in 2018, selling at 89 cents and pounds. U.S. Pat.

The average price per pound that growers could order for tart cherries dropped from 27 cents and pounds in 2016 to 20 cents a pound last year, according to data from USDA. USDA date.

Brenda Oldebekking removes debris from a tank of tart cherries as they cool after being harvested at Amos Farms.

In a letter to the Department of Commerce, the Turkish government disputed the charges leveled by the U.S. cherry industry. The letter said that the programs provided to Turkish cherry farmers are either no longer in use or provide negligible support. Turkey also said it is concerned about the growing number of trade investigations by the US government. A representative for the Turkish Embassy to the United States declined to comment

The U.S. The International Trade Commission made a preliminary ruling in June that Turkish imports "had a significant adverse impact on domestic industry." The final ruling is expected early next year. The Department of Commerce will simultaneously determine the duties to be imposed if Turkish imports are determined to be injurious to the U.S. market.

For this region of northern Michigan, cherry farming is often a family affair. Farms and processing plants have been owned for generations. High-school students spend their summers working 12-hour days in the field along with seasonal workers from Mexico.

Nels Veliquette, Chief Financial Officer for Cherry Ke Inc. Earlier this year he had to lay down 20% of the employees, or about 25 people, who work all year in his cherry plant.

Nels Veliquette, chief financial officer for Cherry Ke Inc., works with his brother, Bruce , it runs the orchards and processing plants that were founded by his father and uncles in 1969. Earlier this year, he had to lay down 20% of the employees, or about 25 people, who worked all year on his dried cherry plant [19659004] If the industry loses its case against Turkey, he thinks a few cherry growers will do it, but it will be nothing more than a niche tourist attraction. The regional industry that has provided a livelihood to farmers for generations will die. He says he's more optimistic than most.

"All this beauty exists because I can make a living at it," he said. " Write to Shayndi Raice at shayndi.raice@wsj.com

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