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New research project on tart cherries could help farmers manage their orchards

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Andrew McFarlane (Flickr)
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   Kailey Foster: I shared some of my conversations with Brent Black, USU Extension Fruit Specialist, looked into a research grant USU received on tart cherries. We continue this conversation and look at how this project can help farmers in Utah.

In our last segment, you told us about how the elevation in Utah can be ideal when growing tart cherries. Why is that?

Brent Black: Well so, because of our environment, that high elevation, the cool nights; what happens with fruit is that when we have warm, sunny days and cool nights that really drives sugar accumulation in the fruit.

The scientific basis for that is because plants are respiring all the time, they're burning sugar to have energy for growth. And at night, when it's hot, the respiration rates are higher. And so, they end up burning up most of the sugar again, that they've accumulated during the day.

Whereas if we have cool nights, there's not as much night respiration and so more of that energy goes into the sugar in the fruit. So, in the market, actually, the high elevation fruit has a market premium because the sugar content is higher.

KF: And this information that you gather will specifically help orchards switch to new crops. And this isn't something that I think about often so, can you expand on that?

BB: The typical orchard life of a tart cherry block is about 30 years. And that varies some from grower to grower, vary some from basically site history and issues like that. So, about every 30 years, they're looking to replant that orchard. And sometimes they're planting back to the same crop, sometimes they might switch.

And one of the challenges with tart cherries is that they don't really come into production until about the seventh or eighth year after they're planted. And so, one of the challenges is if you're waiting until the eighth year to get any crop, you're not super anxious to tear that orchard out and start over again.

And some of the things that we're going to be measuring with the technology that's available is looking at what the tree canopy is the size of individual trees, the fruiting potential of individual trees across a whole orchard with some of our remote sensing technology, and then kind of what the yield potential of those are. It gives the grower the opportunity, we hope, as this technology develops, to identify when enough of those trees have reached a critical point where it's not worth keeping them and it's time to pull the whole orchard out.

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

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

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

Kailey Foster is a senior at Utah State University studying Agricultural Communications, Broadcast Journalism, and Political Science while also getting a minor in Agribusiness. She was raised in the dairy industry in Rhode Island where she found her passion for the agriculture industry as a whole. Here at USU, she has held various leadership positions in the Dairy Science Club and the local Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow chapter. She also also served as the 2020 Utah Miss Agriculture and is currently the 2021 Utah Ms. Agriculture. Here at UPR, she works on agriculture news stories and she produces agriculture segments such as USU Extension Highlights, the Green Thumb, and Ag Matters.