FILE PHOTO: Photo of cherries by Nick Fewings
LOGAN – Utah’s tart cherry crop yields between $7 million and $21 million annually and a team of researchers at both Utah State University and Michigan State University was awarded $1.97 million from the United States Department of Agriculture to study more efficient ways to grow the crop.
The project lead is Professor Brent Black of USU’s Department of Plants, Soils and Climate. He said the objective is to bring some state of the art technology to tart cherry production.
“Tart cherries are kind of an interesting crop, because they’re a little more mechanized than some of the other tree fruit crops, so they’re more similar to some of the field crops that we grow in terms of mechanization,” Black explained. “So, the project is to try and implement technology that would make that more mechanized crop more efficient to grow and be able to maintain the profitability.”
He said historically the market for tart cherries has been for cherry pie filling but in the last 20 years there has been a shift over to dried fruit for cold cereals and snack bars. Most tart cherries are harvested by a trunk shake machine.
Dr. Black said tart cherry production is limited by the 30-year life span of the trees.
“But it’s typically the seventh or eighth year before they start to produce,” Black added. “So some of the things that we’re looking at in this grant is trying to look at how we can manage that orchard uniformly, and also look at how to determine when it’s time to pull the plug, when’s it time to replace that orchard.”
Combining researchers from USU and Michigan State University is a natural paring because Michigan and Utah are traditionally the number one and number two tart cherry producing states in the U.S.