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USU researchers receive $1.97 million to study tart cherries

Lou Stejskal (Flickr)


  Kailey Foster: USU researchers have just received a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to help study Utah fruit crops. USU Extension Fruit Specialist Brent Black joins me today to talk about this research.

So why don't you start by telling us about this research?

Brent Black: So, this is work to study tart cherries. Tart cherries are Utah's number one fruit crop. About 55% of the total fruit acreage in Utah is tart cherries.

For those that don't know what Tart Cherries are all about, they're primarily used for processing. So, historically, they were used a lot in pie filling, and more recently, they're used for drying, and then they use them like the dried fruit in cold cereal and snack bars and things like that.

That's our biggest crop. And we're the number two producing state behind Michigan. And so, this work is to look at how we can improve the management of tart cherries using modern technology to assist our growers to be able to remain economically viable and to continue to be sustainable.

KF: And from my understanding, USU will be partnering with researchers in Michigan on this study, how will this collaboration help this research?

BB: Yes, so as I mentioned, Michigan and Utah are the two largest tart cherry-producing states, and we have a number of disciplines represented in the grant. So, I'm a horticulturist, we have an agronomist, someone in engineering.

We're also partnering with private companies to bring a lot of technology to bear on the issues. So, we have collaboration with AggieAir, which is a group here at USU that uses drones or UAVs, to remote sense situations in agricultural fields, and then help with those management decisions. So, they're a collaborator on it. We're also collaborating with Apogee Instruments, which is a local instrumentation company.

But we have those represented both here in Utah, as well as in Michigan, to look at how these technologies can be used in situations in both of the major tart cherry-producing areas.

KF: And why is Utah such a good place to grow these cherries?

BB: So, tart cherries are a little bit more cold hearty. They will tolerate later spring frost, then some of the other stone fruits like peaches and sweet cherries, and apricot. And because we're growing fruit at 4,500 to 5,000 feet elevation, we have a lot of issues with spring frost.

Our situation is a little better suited because of the risk of frost, but also our warm sunny days and cool nights. We tend to get better fruit quality here, higher sugar content, here than we get in other regions.

So those are two of the reasons and then one of the reasons that it's been historically a popular crop here too is that they are machine harvested and seasonal labor is always a challenge. And so being able to have machine harvesting keeps them out of labor that's required to produce the crop is a little bit less than it is for some of the other tree fruit crops.