Get Ready for More Sweet Cherries

West Michigan growers add acres, say 2013 crop is set

Sparta, Mich.  While most people think of sweet cherries as a Traverse City crop, more sweet cherry trees are putting down roots in the Fruit Ridge area northwest of Grand Rapids.

Growers looking to diversify their agricultural operations and risks, have expanded their plantings of sweet cherries that are now being grown alongside apples, other fruits and vegetables. The newer varieties of sweet cherries, planted on dwarfing rootstocks, are making the crop better suited to modern commercial orchards on Fruit Ridge.

Following what seemed like a prolonged cold spring, West Michigan sweet cherry trees  which blossom earlier than sour cherries or apples  had excellent weather during blossom, according to Don Armock, president of Riveridge Produce Marketing in Sparta, a sweet cherry and apple shipper and part-owner of Fruit Ridge Farm Market of Sparta.

At this point, we have a strong-looking crop on the trees and were cautiously optimistic about the weather, said Armock. While sweet cherries blossomed a few days later than normal, the warm temperatures that followed make it likely that well harvest right on time  just at or after the Fourth of July.

The crop had already been pollinated and was past its most sensitive timeframe when we experienced the sub-freezing temperatures last weekend, Armock commented. Growers will have to wait a few weeks to see what kind of thinning effect the cold temperatures had on sweet cherries, but the effect is not expected to particularly adverse.

Sweet cherries blossomed in Kent and Muskegon counties at about May 3. The crop requires only about 60 days to mature and ripen.

Michigan is the nations fourth-largest producer of sweet cherries, trailing Washington, California and Oregon. Michigan produces about 18,000 tons of sweet cherries, many of which are processed into other products. All sweet cherries that go into grocery stores or are sold at farm markets, must be hand-harvested to avoid bruising and subsequent soft tissue, Armock said.

Riveridge is a vertically integrated grower/packer/shipper of apples in up to 26 states and a dozen foreign countries, and packing and shipping sweet cherries primarily in the Great Lakes region.