Utah County, the state's No.1 fruit-growing area, will have practically no peach or sweet cherry crop this year and tart cherry production will be nearly halved because of sub-zero weather during the winter.
The actual dollar loss has not been determined, but agriculture experts say the loss will amount to millions of dollars.Utah is the third largest producer of tart cherries in the United States and while the state's peach and sweet cherry crops are not as valuable as its tart cherry crop, peaches and sweet cherries usually bring Utah farmers millions of dollars annually.
Orchards north of Salt Lake City and in Washington County and other southern Utah areas were not nearly as hard hit as those in Utah County and will probably have little or no fruit damage if there are no more adverse weather conditions this year. But some other areas of the state, such as Moab, have also suffered extensive fruit damage.
Dr. Anthony H. Hatch, Utah State University Extension fruit specialist, said Thursday that Utah County's fruit and fruit trees were seriously damaged on the mornings of Feb. 6 and 7, when temperatures fell to as low as 28 degrees below zero for several hours.
"One area in the county had temperatures drop to minus 19 to minus 17 for eight hours the morning of Feb. 6," Hatch said. "The following day, temperatures plummeted to minus 21 to minus 20 for six hours in another area."
He said almost all of the county's peach crop was destroyed by the cold and many trees were killed. "It will take five years to finally assess the total damage," Hatch said.
"Some buds on hillsides and in higher elevations in the county may have survived, but not many. Trees in higher elevations generally did better than those in lower areas."
Hatch said that such cold weather, if it had lasted only a few minutes or even up to an hour, might not have caused such widespread damage.
"But six to eight hours at such cold temperatures is too much punishment."
Sweet cherry trees are a bit hardier than peach trees, Hatch said, and fewer sweet cherry trees have been killed. "But Utah County's sweet cherry crop has been almost totally destroyed.
"I would estimate that the state's entire tart cherry crop will be cut by 40 or 50 percent because of the cold."
He said this is the third consecutive year that Utah's fruit producers have taken it on the chin from nature. "Hail in one summer afternoon two years ago destroyed most of Utah's tart cherry crop and last year's entire fruit crop was generally low because of bad weather, wind and hail storms."