What is in this article?:
- First red tart cherry planting takes root in Arizona
- Organic production
- Arizona weather a key
- 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.
Arizona weather a key
“Every crop with a flower is vulnerable to freeze and then you have other weather challenges until the crop is off,” the Michigan native said.
Weather is a key reason why Weaver chose Arizona to grow tart cherries; noting about 850 cold degree hours (below 45 degrees) are required to set a uniform crop.
“You get real winter weather in this part of Cochise County with snow on the ground,” Weaver said. “Daytime temperatures from December into February generally don’t exceed 45 degrees during the day.”
The cherry farm is located near a small grade in the landscape which Weaver believes will protect the trees from frigid spring temperatures.
“The cold nights with no wind can sting you. If you have a grade then the air rolls off – a slow-motion roll. There are no obstacles on the farm to hold the cold. Extreme cold temperatures should roll right through.”
Operating the first red tart cherry farm in Arizona means no nearby processing facilities. Weaver is considering several options.
One is to truck the cherries to Michigan for pitting and processing. Last fall, the Weaver family developed its Omena Organic product line label. The plan includes dried cherries sold in bulk and in 8-ounce bags, plus canned cherries. The family’s label is based on the theme “From Our Farm To Your Table,” www.omenaorganicsfruit.com.
“There is a lot of buzz today emphasizing family involvement in agriculture,” Weaver said. “We are three generations of farmers with our children in the mix. Our product is about our family producing high quality, sustainably-farmed cherry products.”
Another option is to send the fruit to California to process into juice.
Western cherry production includes California where the sweet varieties Bing and Rainier are grown. According to the California Cherry Advisory Board, about 600 farmers grow Bing cherries mostly in the San Joaquin and Santa Clara valleys. Harvest occurs from mid-June to mid-July.
Utah growers produce tart and sweet cherries with about 140 million pounds of sweet cherries grown in 2010.
Michigan, the nation’s top cherry-producing state, produced about 230 million pounds of cherries last year, mostly tart cherries.