Wisconsin cherries shake up success

Alice in Dairyland: The value of Wisconsin’s tart cherry crop totaled $2.11 million last year.

By Kaitlyn Riley

In recent years, the “seven-second challenge” has filled social media with creative, fun tasks players have to complete within seven seconds. The trial could be anything from counting to 10 in another language to naming all the dairy cattle breeds.

In my opinion, Wisconsin Cherry Growers Inc. is the reigning champions of the challenge. What was their task? They picked nearly 7,000 cherries from a tree in seven seconds.

I recently had the chance to see my first cherry harvest in Door County at Seaquist Orchards. Driving the mechanized picker, shaking the limbs and unloading cherries took about 15 seconds per tree, with the average shaking time lasting from four to seven seconds. Each tree had enough cherries to make about 28 pies. Even though I typically associate cherries with desserts, they have important health benefits and are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and other essential nutrients.

The small red fruits are important pieces for our state’s economy. While Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland, the diversity of our state’s agriculture industry is its greatest strength. The value of Wisconsin’s utilized tart cherry crop totaled $2.11 million in 2017.

Wisconsin has a ripe history of cherry production. As early as 1896, cherry trees were planted in Door County, according to the Wisconsin Cherry Growers. Agriculturists quickly realized the peninsula is an ideal region for growing the fruit because it is surrounded by bodies of water that moderate temperatures.

Eventually, the cherry industry expanded to more than 10,000 acres of trees that were still being picked by hand. The University of Wisconsin Department of Agricultural Engineering helped the state branch out in fruit production by developing the mechanical cherry harvester. After decades of advancements, today’s shaker attaches to the tree trunk, and vibrations bring cherries down to a canvas.

July’s cherry harvest is a fast-moving process, and managing an orchard requires plenty of precision planning. Seaquist Orchards says a cherry tree will grow for about five years before it can be shaken. Trees in an orchard can be harvested for about 20 years. Once an orchard reaches its age limit, the trees are removed and chopped into mulch to be used for the next planting.

During my visit to Door County, I had a chance to capture the full harvest process on video. You can check it out by visiting aliceindairyland.com/blog. To see some photos, check out the slideshow below.

Now that we know what Wisconsin cherry growers can do, I have a seven-second challenge for you. Can you name at least five ways to enjoy Wisconsin cherries?

Riley is the 71st Alice in Dairyland. This is the first of several columns she will write for Wisconsin Agriculturist during her year as Alice.

 

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