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"I sell apples today for less than my father got in 1965. I have to guess what the market is going to be in about 20 years if I’m going to succeed."
 
-Dorance Amos
 
 
Farm and Food Voices
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Cherry Farmer Dorrance AmosMichigan Farmer Worries About the Future of Fruit

Only a few places in the world offer the combination of high ground, drainage and microclimate it takes to produce cherries. Dorance Amos has such land near Traverse City, Michigan, where he raises apples, pears, plums and especially cherries-dark, sweet, tart and Maraschino.

“I’m facing all kinds of challenges, and the federal farm programs do nothing for me,” he says. “Specialty crops like fruit get zero, unless there’s a disaster and the insurance kicks in. It’s at a point now where     

“Fruit production has a lot of challenges,” he continues. “ Cherries are a 10-year investment before you see any return. Apples are the same, and pears take 20 years.”

One of Amos’ biggest worries is the ongoing loss of farmland. “One of my grandfathers had 120 acres of oranges near Tarpon Springs, Florida. The family sold it, and when we took my [mother] back to see, we couldn’t even find where it was. It’s all under asphalt.  That made a big impression on me,” Amos says.

Type of Operation:
Cherries, apples, pears, and plums for processing

Land in Agriculture:
1400 acres

Greatest Challenge:
Availability of labor and import competition

Unmet Need:
Cut inheritance and property taxes on preserved land—Especially important where urban development is driving land prices up.

Amos, whose great-great-great grandfather cleared the land, would like to see one of his children come back to the farm, but he’s not sure that will be possible. In his own area, the development pressures are growing. Traverse City has become a resort and vacation area, and developers are paying $10,000 for a single acre. “That’s what I’m up against,” he says. “I’d like to add to my farm, but I can’t justify $10,000 per acre.”

Amos sees land loss as a problem for American agriculture in general. For the past two years, he has chaired the board of one of Michigan’s largest farm cooperatives, representing the interests of all types of farming from southern Michigan to the Mackinac Bridge.

His co-op includes far more than fruit, eggs, lumber, hogs, energy and more-so he sees what farmers in other commodities are facing, and he says America’s farmers are struggling. 

Part of the solution for Amos is for more career farmers to be involved in decisions on farm policy. He, himself, is working to pass a two-county farmland preservation ordinance and is seriously interested in a seat on Michigan’s agriculture committee. 

“What would make me more optimistic about the future is to see more of the full-time farmers get involved [in farm policy]. Too many Americans are too far from the farm today. We’ve got to educate the government and the people about what farming really is, why it’s really hard.

“Yes, I would like to see my children come back to the farm. I would never force them, but I’m hoping to preserve the farm so if they don’t want to farm, their kids could still have the chance. But once you build houses across it, you aren’t going to grow cherries.”

Read more Farm and Food Voices

 
American Farmland Trust