Cherry farmers cheer federal trade move

 

WATERVLIET — Cherry growers across Michigan are applauding a major step toward protecting the industry, having struggled with what has been referred to as “unfair trade practices” by other countries.

U.S. trade officials are no longer allowing duty-free access for cherry juice imports from Turkey. The move was announced Thursday following a presidential proclamation that re-imposed duties on Turkish cherry juice imports.

It took effect Thursday.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said the ruling should help farmers who are fighting foreign dumping in the cherry market.

“In Michigan, we grow more tart cherries than any state in the country,” Stabenow, D-Mich., said in a news release. “This change is a major victory that will help level the playing field for our cherry industry. … I urge trade officials to continue to protect our cherry growers from unfair trade.”

According to the Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan grows 75 to 80 percent of the U.S. supply of tart cherries every year.

However, imports have rapidly increased over the past decade. Ten years ago, the U.S. imported about 24 million pounds of cherry juice concentrate annually. In 2016, the U.S. imported 200 million pounds of cherry juice concentrate.

Turkey, which has drawn the ire of Michigan cherry farmers, sells its tart cherry juice concentrate for roughly $14 a gallon. In contrast, U.S. growers sell at an average of $28 a gallon. According to the Cherry Marketing Institute, the break-even point for a U.S. grower is about $32 a gallon.

U.S. farmers have also dealt with increased production costs in recent years because of the spotted wing drosophila, an invasive species that destroys fruit trees.

Randy Willmeng, a Watervliet farmer whose family grows tart cherries, apples and peaches on more than 400 acres, said cancelling the Turkey’s favored nation status will be big for Southwest Michigan farmers.

Willmeng said this ruling means a 7 cents per liter difference.

“If we go into Turkey, we pay an extra 7 cents (per liter),” Willmeng said. “They were coming in here duty free as part of a promotion program. They’re riding our coattails, but don’t have any proof of the health benefits.”

While he’s happy with the ruling that was announced Thursday, Willmeng said there’s more work to be done.

“We’re going after a dumping deal, and that takes a lot of time,” he said. “The next step is to prove they’ve been dumping and put tariffs on them.”

Recently, Turkey has dumped cherry products into domestic markets, creating a trade imbalance that has made it harder for Michigan growers to sell their cherries at a fair price.

As a result, the cherry industry has asked trade officials to step in and remove Turkey’s unfettered access to U.S. markets.

“This is a significant step forward for the tart cherry industry,” Phil Korson, president of the Cherry Marketing Institute, said in a news release. “The flood of cheap imports has severely affected Michigan cherry growers’ bottom line. This important change will help ensure our world-famous tart cherries are getting a fair shake.”

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski