Utah's leading red-cherry growers have joined a marketing group developing world markets and researching new uses for the fruit in an effort to reduce fluctuations in price and gross sales.

Reed Balls, Utah Farm Burau Federation vice president, said production in Michigan and New York, the dominant red-cherry growing states, has affected Utah's industry over the years. Balls said that has caused feast-or-famine conditions in the Beehive State.Other factors such as the 1988 drought and the recent cold winter have shoved many Utah orchard owners to the verge of bankruptcy, he said.

Cherry Marketing Institute has developed sales in Japan and other Pacific Rim countries for Michigan growers, Balls said. The group is willing to take Utah growers for a year at the state's present marketing assessment of $5 per ton, although for future membership, Utah producers would have to approve an increase to $10 per ton.

The organization also is studying chemistry and nutritional content of the fruit and investigating new products such as cherry-almond paste for croissants, cherry raisins, cherry mustard and cherry-almond sausage.

Wild swings in market prices have plagued Utah growers for years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Statistics Service for Utah said growers have received from 23.0 cents to 8.3 cents per pound from 1985 to 1987. In the same period, Utah's gross sales ranged from $4.83 million to $1.65 million.

In 1987, a bumper crop across the nation left nearly a third of Utah's production unused.

Once a fruit grower plants an orchard, he has little control over crop size, weather conditions and prices, Balls said. And since it takes several years for a tree to start producing, he said the farmer cannot jump into and out of the enterprise quickly.