What is in this article?:
- The first planting of red tart cherry trees in Arizona is two years old and grower Bob Weaver is cautiously optimistic about the new venture.
- The 40-acre farm, Omena Organics, is located near Sunzonia in Cochise County’s Sulphur Springs Valley.
- High wind will likely be Weaver’s top challenge.
The first planting of red tart cherry trees in Arizona is now two years old and grower Bob Weaver is cautiously optimistic about his new venture.
Weaver is no stranger to cherry production. Full time, Weaver grows cherries in Leelenau County, Mich., including several hundred acres of conventional- and organic-grown red tart (sour) cherries and sweet cherries.
Michigan is the cherry capital of the world. Red tart cherries, Prunus cerasus, are mostly used in baking and cooking. The sweet cherry, Prunus avium, is mostly consumed fresh.
Weaver’s passion for cherry production led him to consider expansion to other states. Topping his list of options were Washington and Arizona.
Weaver purchased 40 acres near Sunzonia in Cochise County’s Sulphur Springs Valley in southeastern Arizona in 2007. He planted 141 trees per acre in 2009.
“This is a pioneer situation and I like challenges,” Weaver said, taking a break from tractor duties in late May on his farm located near the base of the Chiricahua Mountains. Behind Weaver plumes of smoke rose from the mountaintop from the Horseshoe Two wildfire.
Weaver is settling in as an Arizona red tart cherry grower. Job one, he says, is nurturing the trees to eventually set a uniform crop. Weaver plans to harvest the first cherry crop in 2013.
Weaver acknowledges that Michigan is not Arizona and Arizona is not Michigan as far as growing conditions. He faces a steep learning curve on farming fruit in Arizona’s High Desert. The farm is located at 4,950 feet in elevation.
Several small plantings of sweet cherries in other areas of Cochise County have been largely unsuccessful. One planting was removed due to wind-related limb rub.
“The wind will probably be the top challenge in Arizona,” Weaver said. “I will likely need to install windbreaks to protect the trees.”
For Weaver, fungal disease has not been an issue due to the dry climate but he says powdery mildew could become a problem down the road. The Arizona monsoon rainy season begins around July 15; prime time for fungus spores. Fungal diseases are common on Weaver’s Michigan farm due to higher annual rainfall and humidity.
“My goal is to harvest the Arizona red tart cherries in June before the monsoon arrives and harvest the Michigan cherries in July,” Weaver said.
A bright spot for faster cherry crop maturation in the desert is tied to higher heat units in May and June.
Desert pests can include rodents. Employee Brian Heath showed Weaver a dead, chewed-up tree trunk. Both studied the gnawed wood and concurred the likely culprit was a pocket gopher. The rodent is the only pest problem thus far. As the trees mature, Weaver expects rodent damage will decrease.