Cherry processor battling USDA restrictions in court
One northern Michigan cherry processor is fighting a legal battle with the federal government.
Right now, laws on the books limit how much fruit local processors can buy from growers.
Burnette Foods in Elk Rapids says it's not fair, and sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011.
Regulations limiting the percentage of the tart cherry crop that can be sold are about 15 years old, and Burnette Foods wants to change those regulations.
â??This is not an incentive to grow more. This actually makes it more difficult to grow more and I know there are people here who would like to plant more cherries, and frankly there are processors who would love to process more cherries, including Burnette Foods,â?? said Bill Sherman, Burnette Foods President.
Because Burnette Food doesn't process frozen cherries their products have a shorter shelf life.
The restrictions have led to large amounts of cherries being imported into the U.S. from other countries.
Sherman says not all states have these limits.
Lawmakers in Oregon and Pennsylvania have managed to dodge the restrictions that have so far mainly applied to cherry processors.
â??They can harvest one hundred percent of their cherries and Michigan could be restricted to some severe reductions, and it's happened here.â??
Sherman says the Cherry Industry Administrative Board is controlled by people who are close with frozen cherry processors.
They are responsible for determining how many tart cherries can be sold.
â??You have to have some guts to take on a fight like this and I guess I felt like Burnett Foods have been pushed around enough.â??
Sherman says a March 2014 ruling lifted the restriction, but only for companies that can cherries. An appeal has been filed on both sides, putting the ruling on hold.
The USDA said in an email they cannot comment due to on-going litigation.