Foolish laws lobbied for by profitable industries is no new trend in the U.S., but for Marc Santucci, a Michigan cherry farmer, there was one wasteful law he refused to accept.
“These cherries are beautiful,” says Marc, who’s been growing the crop on his 80-acre plot of land in Traverse City, “But, we have to dump 14% of our tart cherry crop on the ground to rot. Why? So we can allow the import of 200 million pounds of cherries from overseas! It just doesn’t seem right…”
Indeed, Marc’s referring to an insensible regulation put into place by the Cherry Industry Administrative Board, which he exposed on a Facebook post that went viral:
The order has been around since 1937 and it limits how many cherries can be sold by domestic farmers so that more of the product can be imported from overseas.
For Marc, the regulation is nothing more than a “vain attempt to prop up the price of cherries.”
The stated goal of the law is to bring stability to cherry farming in an industry that could have varying yields from one year to the next
According to Perry Hedin of the Cherry Industry Administrative Board, the requirement has actually ensured that farmers receive better pay for the last two decades.
However, whatever the intentions of the policy, Marc claims that it forces him to leave 14% of his tart cherries out to rot, since he cannot sell them, or even donate them to homeless shelters.
Additionally, Santucci says that the law does not help all farmers, but mainly larger companies with greater production capacities.
Since his smaller operation does not have the necessary equipment to freeze or dry cherries, he’s ultimately left with no choice but to let the extra product go to waste.
Cherry producers continuously vote every five years to implement the regulations, often to the detriment of smaller farmers like Marc.
As a result, farmers operating on a lesser scale lose a competitive edge while crops from foreign countries get a higher priority.
“If I have to sell these excess cherries for less, I might not make that much more,” said Marc, “But if we’re ever going to stop the increase in imports, we’ve got to compete with them head to head on every cherry we produce. If we don’t do that, we’re leaving the market wide open to them.”
Marc reiterates that he doesn’t want to cut off foreign farmers from the U.S. market, but rather that “we sometimes do stupid things in this country in attempt to do the right thing—we end up doing the wrong thing.”
He added that, “Unless we can make people who count understand and know what’s going on, we’ll never change it.”
However, according to Kevin Robson, a specialist in horticulture with the Michigan Farm Bureau, there’s more to the situation than Marc knows:
It is for the betterment of the industry as a whole, and a great number of cherry growers have benefited, even those who voted against it.
“In 1988, when the entity was called the Cherry Administrative Board, growers voted to eliminate the marketing order. Prices began to follow a rollercoaster that led, within 10 years, to tart cherry prices that fell into single figures. Some growers went out of business.
Farmers can use the cherries for research and development, and they could make thousands of cherry pies and donate them to charity if they want. Remember these are tart cherries. They need to be processed — and quickly — to make a viable product. They aren’t sweets that you just eat by the handful.
Despite the opposition, Marc is convinced of his position and, given the viral nature of his Facebook, he seems to have a lot of support, too.