New tart cherry research project could help farmers manage their orchards


Kailey Foster: I shared some of my conversations with Brent Black, USU Extension Fruit Specialist, who reviewed a research grant USU received on tart cherries. We continue this conversation and take a look at how this project can help Utah farmers.

In our last segment, you told us how great Utah elevation can be for growing tart cherries. Why is that?

Brent Black: Well, because of our surroundings, this high altitude, the cool nights; what happens with fruits is that when we have hot sunny days and cool nights it really results in the build up of sugar in the fruits.

The scientific basis for this is that plants breathe all the time, they burn sugar for energy for their growth. And at night, when it’s hot, breathing rates are higher. And so, they end up burning again most of the sugar that they have accumulated during the day.

Whereas if we have cool nights there is not as much nocturnal breathing and therefore more of that energy goes into the sugar in the fruit. So in the market, in fact, high altitude fruits have a premium in the market because the sugar content is higher.

KF: And this information you collect will specifically help orchards switch to new crops. And it’s not something I think about often so can you expand on that?

BB: The typical lifespan of a block of tart cherry in the orchard is around 30 years. And that varies in part from producer to producer, depending on the history of the site and issues like that. So about every 30 years they are looking to replant that orchard. And sometimes they replant the same crop, sometimes they can change.

And one of the challenges with tart cherries is that they don’t really go into production until around the seventh or eighth year after planting. And so, one of the challenges is that if you wait until the eighth year to get a harvest, you’re not very anxious to pull up that orchard and start over.

And some of the things we’re going to measure with the technology available is to look at what the tree canopy is, the size of individual trees, the fruiting potential of individual trees in an entire orchard with some of our remote sensing technology. , and then what is the yield potential of these. This gives the grower the opportunity, we hope, as this technology develops, to identify when enough of these trees have reached a critical point where it is not worth keeping them and that they it’s time to remove the whole orchard.

KF: And is there any information you would like to add?

BB: I think one of the things this project illustrates is that there are some really exciting opportunities for technology in agriculture. A lot of times people think farming is, you know, that old-fashioned, traditional type of business.

And there are some really amazing technologies associated with remote sensing with drones with cloud-based data storage that are dictating how farmers can and will manage their crops in the future.


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