Michigan cherry farmers could lose jobs, livelihoods amid tough competition from overseas

Michigan cherry farmers could lose jobs, livelihoods amid tough competition from overseas

They’re a treasured old-time sight in Michigan — cherries and the miles of orchards where they flourish Up North.

Michigan is the nation’s top producer of tart cherries, for great pies and jams; and ranked fourth for sweet cherries, sold in city markets nationwide and at rural roadside stands along Lake Michigan.

Michigan’s cherry juice has a big following as a health food and sport supplement, with fans at retirement centers and in the locker rooms of the Detroit Red Wings, Green Bay Packers and other pro teams.

But this season, there’s a new market for Michigan cherries: Voters.

A campaign ad for U.S. Senator Gary Peters features a bearded Michigan farmer, speaking out on why the state’s cherry growers are up against a threat worse than the much-feared hail, ravaging insects and labor shortages that have long given cherry farmers sleepless nights. Now they have a fresh nightmare: Ultra-cheap cherries from Turkey. It’s a gripe familiar to countless Michiganders who’ve lost jobs to imported just-about-everything-else.

In Peters’ ad, cherry grower Nels Veliquette praises the senator for helping his industry battle the cheap imports.

“Sen. Peters was the one guy that showed up from the very beginning,” Veliquette narrates, over scenes of farmers on tractors and cherries glowing red on trees, then bouncing down conveyor chutes. “He came to the factory, he listened to the growers, he listened to the processors.” The 60-second ad also has Peters talking, briefly making the growers’ case against “unfair prices.”

Veliquette’s dried tart cherries, plump and chewy, are sold at Meijer, Spartan stores and other markets under the name Shoreline Fruit. His grievance may at first seem unrelated to the woes of Americans displaced from manufacturing. But it’s a refrain that goes back decades in Michigan, where hundreds of thousands of auto, steel and other jobs have been lost to low-cost imports. Aside from cherries, Veliquette says that Peters cares about the little guy — “the small towns, the small problems,” the ad says, because he cares about anyone whose job might disappear. The ad shows Veliquette on a deck, scanning cherry orchards from his acreage in Grand Traverse County, which happens to be a stronghold of Republicans.

Peters’ cherry spot has been broadcast statewide since early August. It surely was seen by GOP strategists.

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