"The peaches are history," Orem fruit grower Randall Ercanbrack said Thursday.
The Ercanbracks spent about $80 per acre to fertilize their peach trees last November. Then February temperatures of 26 degrees below zero did extensive damage to 65 acres of the orchard."We spent almost $6,000 to fertilize the trees.
"Mother Nature controls your destiny in the fruit-growing business. You can do everything right, then one bad storm will cancel it all out," he said.
Utah County fruit growers, who produce 85 percent of the state's 12,000-acre harvest, have lost their gamble with nature for the past three years. Morris Ercanbrack, Randall's father, said that in 1987 and 1988 he got only 25 percent of his normal yield of cherries. Cold temperatures were the culprit in 1988; in 1987 it was a severe hailstorm.
Utah County trees were already stressed from last summer's drought, he said. Because of their weakened state they suffered even more damage from February's low temperatures. Morris Ercanbrack said he expects no peaches from his trees this year and predicts most of the injured trees will die over the next few years.
Some local fruit growers are "in deep trouble" from last year, Morris Ercanbrack said, and may not survive another bad season.
Although 65 acres of the Ercanbracks' land will be unproductive, they hope their other 135 acres will pull them through. Barring another surprise from Mother Nature, Morris Ercanbrack predicts 50 percent of the normal yield of cherries. He is more optimistic about his apples, although it is too early to be sure.
But the most risky period for fruit trees is still to come. A frost in the second or third week of April could kill buds.
The elder Ercanbrack said he is accustomed to the risk; he is a third-generation "gambler." But his two sons who work the orchards get discouraged, he said.
"We've had some good years, but prices have fallen. We were getting more out of our apples 10 years ago than we get now. Overproduction has caught up with everyone. We are all working for less."