An Interdisciplinary Framework for Sustainable Tart Cherry (Prunus cerasus L.) Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2005: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Grant Recipient: University of California
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Deborah Letourneau
University of California


  • Agronomic: rye, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: cherries, general tree fruits


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: application rate management, cover crops, intercropping, no-till, nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, focus group, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: biological control, chemical control, cultural control, integrated pest management, mulches - killed, mulches - living, mulching - vegetative, physical control, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, social networks, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    This interdisciplinary project investigates the intersection of natural constraints and social interactions at the point of the production process in agriculture through a study of tart cherry production in northern Michigan. The study, drawing on recent work in geography and rural sociology, examines the plight of farmers in a network of economic institutions in which they are losing power over their production decisions, and it integrates agroecological theory to evaluate alternative practices designed for sustainable production. In addition to biophysical data collected from four on-farm cover crop treatments since 2000, we are currently conducting a causal analysis of the relationship between farm-level characteristics (structure, scale, labor) and use of agroecological techniques (cover crops, IPM) through forty grower interviews. The results of our integrated biophysical and social research will directly address SARE’s desired outcomes. First, it will help to sustain the natural environment by replacing several synthetic inputs with ecological services provided by cover crops. Second, we will increase profitability for growers by demonstrating opportunities for chemical and fertilizer reduction. These outcomes are a necessary first step for transition to organic production, which may allow innovative growers to take advantage of price premiums. Third, by establishing researcher, grower, extension and industry collaboration we will enhance the long-term viability of the northern Michigan cherry farming community. Our project emphasizes program monitoring, to ensure compliance with stated methods and impact evaluation to describe the effectiveness of outcomes and potential for program expansion. Tangible outputs include publication of results in grower journals, newsletters, and academic journals, presentations at producer and academic conferences, and dissemination of results through the Northwest Michigan Integrated Fruit Practices (IFP) Think Tank, a farmer, industry, researcher, and stewardship group.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The target audience and potential beneficiaries of our research are northern Michigan fruit belt growers, their families and area residents. The short-term outcomes of this project are to: 1) increase farmer awareness and knowledge of cover crop techniques through grower meetings, field days, and publications; 2) and to establish the causal relationship between producer characteristics and sustainable production practices. Findings will demonstrate the farm-level forces that are encouraging advancement of sustainable agriculture. There are two intermediate outcomes. First, 5-10 growers will adopt cover crops in their orchards. Second, through collaboration with the M.S.U. extension and the Cherry Marketing Institute (CMI) we will enhance grower awareness of prospects to improve profitability through unexploited organic markets. Demonstrating the possibility for reduced chemical and fertilizer use and greater profitability will encourage the adoption of sustainable techniques. The long-term outcome is to inspire policy change that provides further incentives for sustainable farming, leading to a viable farm economy and preservation of the region’s natural heritage.

    Tangible outputs include broad dissemination of results through grower publications such as CMI, MSU Fruit IPM program, and online newsletters, the Fruit Grower News, and presentations at grower conferences (6 annual horticultural meetings; attendance of 40-1100). Results will be presented in academic journals and at academic conferences, which will expand findings to other states and also be disseminated through the Northwest Michigan Integrated Fruit Practices (IFP) Think Tank, a farmer, industry, researcher, and stewardship group.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.