Cherry business booms 

Agriculture

Talk about sweet stories: the feel-good tale of Yellow Bay-based Glacier Fresh Cherries continued when the mother- and son-owned company recently received a $50,000 loan from the Montana Agriculture Development Council (MADC) to build a 1,200-square-foot cold storage room. The expansion will allow the company to keep enough Flathead cherries on the premises to run a day and night shift, doubling the amount of cherries processed.

The story of Glacier Fresh Cherries dates back to last year when Washington-based Monson Fruit Co. declined much of the Flathead cherry crop. Glacier Fresh, which decided the previous year to switch from selling their fruit to big conglomerates, like Monson, and sell high-quality product to specialty stores, stepped  in to fill the void. In 2005, Glacier Fresh processed 125,000 pounds of cherries. When Monson cut orders due to a market glut the following year, Glacier Fresh increased its operations to help local growers, and processed about 1 million pounds of cherries. Once the new cold storage room is finished, Glacier Fresh expects to process more than 2 million pounds.

Justin Hager, who manages the loans and grants distributed by MADC, says the fact Glacier Fresh is the only company specifically marketing its cherries as being from the Flathead helped secure its loan.

“We’re trying to get Flathead Cherries recognized as a premium product,” says Glacier Fresh co-owner Cody Herring.

Herring says it’s too early to tell what might happen with Monson orders this year—“we’re probably 10 days out from any kind of bloom”—but last year several orchard owners told the Independent they believed Monson’s decision to buy less fruit marked the beginning of a trend. They point to new Washington orchards now ripening at the same time as the Flathead’s, which had been the latest ripening in the United States.

Should last year’s harvest become the norm, Herring admits he still can’t process enough cherries to save the Flathead’s orchards, but at a minimum, he may be lighting a path to the future.
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