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Frozen cherry exporters in Poland cash in on Michigan crop failure.

The extent of the cherry crop devastation in the US state of Michigan was confirmed to be far worse than expected as this issue of Quick Frozen Foods International was going to press.

"One processor told me that he will process not one pound of tart cherries this summer," said Peter Skolnick, president of Monterey, California-based Imperial Foods, a private label packer and supplier of frozen fruits to industrial users.

His advice: "Place your orders for Polish cherries."

Cherry Republic, a further processor and retailer, had already done so in May, ordering 150,000 pounds of Polish cherries. "We did it to keep our employees busy," said Bob Sutherland president of the Ann Arbor-headquartered company. "It's a temporary necessity."

A March warm spell caused trait trees to blossom early, but subsequent freezes killed buds and ravaged Michigan cherries, as well as much of the peach and apple crops.

"The reserves are gone," said Brad Wendzel, president and industrial sales manager of Colomabased Coloma Frozen Foods. "It's as if we depleted our strategic oil reserves and then blew up a bunch of refineries."

Michigan, where the fruit industry is valued at $190 million a year, produces three-fourths of the nation's tart cherries (used primarily in pies and other baked goods), and 20% of its sweet cherries.

This is the third consecutive year with a poor cherry crop. The result is drained inventories that already were shorted by a federal inventory cap, which limits the amount of cherries saved from year to year. The federal Agricultural Marketing Service has requested the cap be doubled to 100 million pounds of cherries.

Growers and processors meeting at the Michigan Frozen Food Packers Association's 57th Annual Fruit Crop Guesstimate in June figured that of the 7.75 million tons of dark sweet cherries harvested this year, only 2.25 million tons, some of which is juice grade, is going to the frozen sector. This means that the harvest was down by a whopping 80%, since the five-year average crop is 46.1 million pounds.

The three-year average crop of RTP cherries is 115 million pounds from the largest growing area in northwest Michigan. This year, 5.5 million pounds is an optimistic guess for pounds harvested.

While the three-year year average for West Central Michigan is 56 million pounds, the Guesstimate for 2012 is six million pounds. Southwest Michigan's three-year average is 15.2 million pounds, with estimated production this year at half a million pounds.

Tart cherry crops in New York and Wisconsin were also hit hard. Utah, for the first time in history, will be the major producing state, with Washington trailing.
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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