A small snowstorm Wednesday afternoon sent a big chill through Utah County fruit growers and dropped up to 2 inches of snow, which soon melted, in their orchards.
"This kind of thing really worries us," said orchard owner Morris Ercanbrack, who's concerned that temperature dips below freezing could further damage fruit crops.Ercanbrack counted on his wind machines and overcast skies Wednesday night to protect his trees from the late spring storm. "The machines can raise the temperature from 3 to 7 degrees, depending on how high up the warm air is," he said. Fruit farmers used to use smudge pots to warm the trees, but they became too expensive.
A forecast for wet, colder weather could cause problems for some fruit trees during the next day or two in Utah County and Cache Valley, said meteorologists at the Salt Lake office of the National Weather Service.
This is the third consecutive year that nature has damaged Utah County's fruit crop. A drought last year and a wind and hail storm the year before have taken their tolls.
Utah County, which has about 10,000 of Utah's 12,000 acres of orchards, will have practically no peach or sweet cherry crop this year and tart cherry production will be nearly halved because of damage caused by the cold this winter. The actual dollar loss has not been determined, but agriculture experts fear the loss will amount to millions of dollars.
With a smaller Utah County harvest and abundant fruit available from other states, some Utah fruit farmers are in deep trouble, Ercanbrack said. Most spent about $80 per acre to fertilize their orchards last fall, and may see little profit from that investment.
The low in Springville on Wednesday night was 36 and in Orem it was 31.
Brent Gledhill, Utah State University Extension Service horticulturist, said cherries, apples, apricots and pears at the current stage of development would experience a 10 percent kill if temperatures drop to 28 degrees. Temperatures of 25 degrees would mean a 90 percent kill.
"The critical temperatures are about the same for peaches, but there are almost no peaches left in Utah County," he said.
Orchards north of Salt Lake City and in Washington County and other southern Utah areas were not damaged nearly as much as Utah County's, and will probably have little or no fruit damage if there are no more adverse weather conditions this year.