Warm weather threatening local fruit crop

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    By CAMERON FULLER

    Unseasonably warm weather may be welcomed by some, but it could spell trouble for fruit growers in Utah County.

    According to information from the National Weather Service, this January was the second warmest on record. January’s average daily temperature was 10 degrees higher than the normal temperature. February’s temperatures were also warm — three degrees above the norm.

    If temperatures are consistently warm too early in the season, fruit trees may prematurely blossom.

    This year’s temperatures caused some temporary concern for W. Morris Ercanbrack, who operates Kings Choice Fruit with his two sons Sheldon and Randall. They have orchards in Orem, Santaquin and Genola.

    “In January and even December it was pretty mild, milder than normal. And that was really scary,” Ercanbrack said. “So far we’re in pretty good shape but time will tell, because (the buds) have probably broke dormancy in those warmer deals, but they’re still fairly dormant here.”

    Ercanbrack said if the buds have in fact broken dormancy, a warming trend could launch them into blossoming.

    “So if (the trees) start getting temperatures up in the 60s, then look out if it comes too quick,” Ercanbrack said. “We don’t want real cold weather, but we don’t like to see it get much more than 50 degrees, and in the nighttime temperatures, we don’t like to see it get much below freezing.”

    Tony Hatch has been involved in Utah’s fruit industry since he moved here 18 years ago. He works as the Utah State University fruit specialist for the state of Utah. He is optimistic but cautious about the outlook.

    “I think our return bloom this year was a lot greater than I thought it would be with conditions the way they were,” Hatch said. “We really don’t have to worry too much about going into spring with a lot of fruit buds and a lot of fruit potential for the growing season. But it so happens that the next month or six weeks is the most critical period in the raising of fruit.”

    The degree to which temperatures may vary without harming a fruit crop decreases as the season continues. Once the blossoms are in full-bloom, a difference of just a couple of degrees can change a 10 percent crop loss to a 90 percent loss, according to Hatch.

    Ercanbrack said apricots will be the first fruit to come out — around the first of April. Cherries and peaches usually follow around April 20, and apples usually come out at the end of April or beginning of May. Aside from temperatures remaining around the 50’s, he said wet weather is also very welcome in his orchards.

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