While recent cool, wet weather has brought relief to most of the parched Wasatch Front, local fruit farmers are hoping for a few sunny days.
Most orchards did get a welcome amount of precipitation, but some of the storms may have interfered with critical pollination of Utah County's apple and tart cherry crops. Both evidently survived winter freezes, according to experts.Tony Hatch, fruit specialist with the Utah State University Extension Services, said bees, which provide critical pollination for the fruit crops, may have been discouraged by the rains during the past four weekends.
"Basically, the bees don't work when it's raining," Hatch said.Apples and tart cherries may have survived the winter freeze, but recent rainstorms may have interfered with pollination. "Basically, the bees don't work when it's raining." - Tony Hatch, Extension Services fruit specialist. However, the presence of millions of butterflies is an encouraging sign, because those insects could help provide the necessary pollination, Hatch said.
"They've really taken to the blossoms so far, and that may have helped," he said. "All the trees are blooming out right now, so this time is very critical."
Freezes in December, March and April took their toll on already sensitive fruit crops, Hatch said. Peach and other stone fruits, as well as sweet cherry crops, could have been severely damaged during those chills.
Apples and tart cherries, which provide the bulk of profits in the valley's $10 million fruit industries, may have survived those weather conditions intact and could reach all-time production highs, he said.
Both crops are typically the latest blooming fruit, having reached their apex in early May. The yields of both fruits are contingent upon pollination, which must take place before blossoms start falling. Blossoming typically happens before the end of the month, he said.
Local farmers the Deseret News contacted earlier this year reported that their apple and sweet cherry trees apparently resisted cold temperatures. Overall, 1991 could be a very good year for fruit farmers, despite the winter losses, Hatch said.
Crops that look to do well this year include:
APPLES - Utah County hit an all-time apple high in 1987, when the county's production yielded between 22,000 to 23,000 tons of apple varieties. Hatch said local farmers "could anticipate that kind of harvest this year, if everything goes well and the weather cooperates."
TART CHERRIES - The valley's second largest cash fruit crop could exceed all previous production records, Hatch said. The valley once yielded 11,500 tons of tart cherries and could exceed that this year, he said.
PEARS - The production of this fruit, which is similar to the apple varieties, looks to be unimpaired this year, both due to the trees' heartiness and late blossoming time, Hatch said.
The county has yielded a high of 2,500 tons of pears, another record that could fall this year should conditions cooperate, he said.
According to Hatch, crops that could have been impaired include:
SWEET CHERRIES - Freezes both this year and last winter may have destroyed as much as 40 percent of the county's sweet cherry crop, according to Hatch. He estimates countywide production this year could be as high as 2,000 tons.
PEACHES and other stone fruits - Local farms yielded 4,200 tons of peaches in 1983, but this year's crop will likely amount to 200 tons. Hatch said the combination of a December 1990 freeze and frosts in March and April of this year "essentially wiped out the crops, trees and all."
The results of severe-weather damage may have long-term effects on the county's peach crop and related stone fruits, including apricots and Japanese plums. "It will be a long time, if ever, that this county gets back to that all-time high mark."