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Sweating out a warm spring: early blossoms, worry to Utah orchards

As predicted, scientists see a heating trend around the nation.

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Marion Murray, who works with fruit growers on integrated pest management, called it a "trying time."

"I talked to some farmers who said they lost 90 percent of their peaches and their tart cherries," she said.

At a glance

April: The third-warmest ever on record

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported recently that the average April temperature in the contiguous United States rose to 55 degrees, about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above average. It also marked the warmest year to date and 12-month period since records began in 1895.

To learn more, visit http://1.usa.gov/JcAKgN

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USU’s Brent Black said it was too soon to say how the unusual April record affected crops statewide. But he agreed that it’s normal for temperatures to fluctuate in spring. What’s happened in recent springs has prompted him to put sophisticated weather stations in orchards to help learn how the trends are playing out.

On the possibility that global climate change is having an effect on Utah’s fruit growers, he said: "It’s definitely on my mind." In Santaquin, fruit farmers ran fans the night before Easter, as temperatures plunged to 19 degrees and threatened to wipe out the early-blooming peaches, apricots and tart cherries.

Ray Rowley, who manages his family’s Cherry Hill farms, said his crops are mostly fine even though temperatures warmed up more than usual and earlier than usual. But he’s not worried about a bigger trend.

"People get bent out of shape and they put it on global warming," he said of the weather trends. "But some years, it gets you. Some years, it doesn’t."

Tagge credits warmth from the lake effect for blanketing the blossoms on his trees just when they needed it most. The night before Easter, when the thermometer read a frigid 28 degrees and worry gnawed at him, a warm breeze off the Great Salt Lake protected his orchards.

"We didn’t get any losses," he said of his tender peaches, apricots and sweet cherries. "We’ve got a good crop."


Twitter: @judyfutah

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