Door County's cherry harvest is the pitsDoor County's cherry harvest this year will be both tart and bitter.
By: By George Hesselberg, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
Door County's cherry harvest this year will be both tart and bitter.
Tart, because that is the type of the state's most popular, most grown cherry, of which 6.7 million pounds were picked in 2011.
Bitter because this year's harvest will be a fraction -- estimates range from 5 to 20 percent -- of 2011's. Also, growers said last week that the harvest is three weeks early, and the fruit that does survive is going to be expensive.
Growers predict the harvest will be no more than 1 million pounds, possibly as little as 500,000 pounds.
"I've never seen it this bad," said Bob Lautenbach, a grower for 40 years at the 80-acre Lautenbach's Orchard Country in Fish Creek. His operation includes a store and winery, similar to other orchards in a tourist-dependent county that relies heavily on summer cherry harvest visitors.
"This cherry business is like going to Las Vegas, you can hit it big and you can lose big," he said.
"Our cherries are usually sold throughout the United States, but all the cherries we produce this year we will keep in the county for tours and the locals," he said.
He said picking at his orchard will start at the latest by July 4, three weeks ahead of the usual time. Other growers said picking at their orchards could start as early as this week.
The crop was doomed because of an unseasonably warm winter, followed by temperatures up to 85 in March, followed by "at least a dozen frosts," said Lautenbach. The blossoms couldn't take that kind of beating, so cherries did not form, he said.
"It is the fresh cherries and the pick-your-own that are probably going to take the biggest hits. There's just not a lot on the trees. Some are fairly loaded and there's a bunch of trees with nothing on," he said.
Glen Musil at Choice Orchards, north of Sturgeon Bay, expects to get only 5 to 10 percent of a normal harvest on his 185 acres. His pick-your-own operation will be open from July 4-8, "but we're telling people they will have to do a lot of walking to fill a pail."
At the pick-your-own Alexander's Cherry Orchard in Brussels, southwest of Sturgeon Bay, co-owner Karen Matzke said the orchard probably will open Thursday, compared with the third week of July last year. She advised customers to call ahead and estimated the crop to be about 20 percent of last year's.
Keeping the harvest in the county is a direct lure for tourists, an important part of the economy, said Jon Jarosh of the Door County Visitor Bureau.
"Some orchards will not be opening for pick-your-own. On the positive side, from what we are hearing from growers, for visitors coming here they can still get their cherries picked," he said, and fresh cherries will be available at farm markets and roadside stands.
"It just might take more trees to fill a pail," he said.
The effects of the small harvest will be felt in employment, too, said Lautenbach, especially at cherry processing plants, which hire seasonal workers. The ripple effect of the loss includes depletion of the growers' cherry stash, which Lautenbach said was emptied after it became clear the harvest would be way down.
Wisconsin cherry orchards in Door County cover 1,700 acres, and produced a tart cherry harvest in 2011 valued at almost $2 million. Michigan cherry growers, who produce 80 percent of the country's cherries, face similar orchard devastation from the weather, growers reported.
(c)2012 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)
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