Michigan tart cherry growers will cast mail-in ballots between March 12 and March 25 to determine whether the Michigan Cherry Committee, which is organized under Michigan law to operate a checkoff program and conduct research and promotion, will continue to operate for another five years.
The Michigan Cherry Committee is supported financially by Michigan growers. Since Michigan growers produce three-fourths of the national crop, MCC plays an essential role in industry leadership. It is led by a committee of nine Michigan grower members plus two ex officio members from the state of Michigan and Michigan State University.
Currently, it is chaired by Jim Nugent, a Traverse City tart cherry grower. Nugent retired from Michigan State University four years ago, after spending his career conducting research at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station. Much of his work was with cherries, both sweet and tart. A sweet cherry developed at Cornell was named Nugent in his honor because of his work evaluating it.
Phil Korson, president of the Cherry Marketing Institute, said the Michigan Cherry Committee has an assessment rate of $10 per ton and transfers 95 percent of what it receives to the Cherry Marketing Institute. “Wisconsin and Utah are doing the same thing. In some states, there are no state marketing orders.”
Tart cherry growers in all producing states also pay $10 a ton under a federal marketing order. The Cherry Industry Administrative Board collects those funds and transfers them to CMI as well. Tart cherries are commercially grown in seven states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Washington State, and Oregon.
“These funds are used for promotion both domestically and internationally, as well as production research and state and federal issues like school lunch and pesticide issues,” Korson said.
Funding varies annually as crop size varies. Last year, the Cherry Industry Administration Board transferred $987,000 to the Cherry Marketing Institute, the Michigan Cherry Committee transferred $911,000, and growers in New York, Utah, and Wisconsin provided $124,000.
CMI also obtained state and federal funds for export promotions. In total, last year it had $2.4 million to spend.
Each year, the Cherry Marketing Institute spends about $300,000 on university research projects designed to document the health benefits of tart cherries. It spends about $150,000 a year on grants to Michigan State University for research on production-related issues. Most of the remaining money (after overhead costs of $350,000) is spent on promotion, much of that going to the public relations firm Sandwick Weber.