FRUIT INDUSTRY IN UTAH
Fruit packers in Hurricane, 1935
Early pioneers brought many different fruits into Utah. Mormon leaders
were anxious to show that a wide variety of crops could be grown successfully
in the area, and they actively encouraged immigrants to bring seeds and
fruit tree stock. Apples, peaches, cherries, pears, apricots, and grapes
were among the most popular crops planted during this period. The best locations
for growing fruit were determined through a long process of trial and error
in the new settlements founded throughout the territory. By the late nineteenth
century the counties of the Wasatch Front had been recognized as the areas
most suited to large-scale fruit production.
One early attempt to grow fruit for commercial purposes was in Washington
County. Success in grape growing, soon after settlement in the 1860s, led
to the production of wine. The industry was gradually abandoned due to the
poor quality of the product, however.
A growing commercial fruit industry in Utah did not begin until early in
the twentieth century. Before this time, Utah's orchards were largely small
private operations, largely uncultivated, and characterized by a large number
of fruit varieties of varying quality. Problems with disease and insects,
the growing surplus of fruit, and competition from other states combined
to stimulate development of the industry.
Local governments first tried coping with the problem of disease at the
local level. Beginning in 1894, probate judges issued proclamations regarding
the proper time for spraying and disinfecting orchards, and county-appointed
fruit inspectors reported on the observance of these proclamations. These
impediments to the growth of a commercial fruit industry in Utah were tackled
by a new state agency, the Board of Horticulture, beginning in 1896. The
board saw its role mainly as one of education and to a lesser extent of
regulation. Its publications promoted the latest in fruit-growing technology,
explaining to farmers how best to plant, cultivate, and prune their orchards
to achieve maximum production. The state board also recommended the most
suitable varieties of fruits for commercial production, and it advocated
standards for the grading of fruit going to market. The board promulgated
rules for spraying and orchard disinfection and began the inspection of
fruit and the banning of diseased fruit from the market. Nursery stock was
inspected beginning in 1897, and a law regulating the marking and grading
of fruit was enacted in 1929.
Also instrumental in these early efforts at improving fruit production was
the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station started in 1890 at Utah State University.
Different varieties of fruit were tested in experimental orchards, the first
of which was planted on what is now the quad on the Logan campus. Other
farms followed in different parts of the state. Publications that reported
the results of fruit growing trials and gave advice on fruit growing techniques
were widely distributed. Studies of specific aspects of the industry were
also frequently published.
These efforts led to a boom in the number of commercial orchards. A period
of rapid expansion began in 1903 and continued until 1914 when overproduction
caused a general depression in the industry both in Utah and throughout
the West. In the years immediately following, thousands of trees were destroyed
and new planting dropped dramatically. By 1947 the number of fruit trees
in production was only half the number reported in 1914. The period between
1914 and 1945 saw the industry stabilize to some extent, but a more rapid
erosion in the size of the industry began as urban areas expanded in the
years after World War II at the expense of the older, more established orchards.
Beginning in the early 1970s, the fruit industry underwent a revival as
new growers began buying and developing cheaper land away from immediate
urban expansion, particularly in southern Utah County. Growth has occurred
most dramatically in the numbers of tart cherry and apple trees planted.
Today, these are the two largest fruit crops produced in the state. Tart
cherries supply a larger percentage of the national market than any other
kind of fruit; they are grown primarily for processing and canning. Production
of sweet cherries, apricots, pears, and peaches continues to decline, as
these crops have proven to be less reliable income producers. As the industry
has become more specialized, it has also become more highly concentrated.
In Utah County alone, the number of growers has declined by more than forty
percent since 1970.
Current trends do not accurately reflect the types of fruit historically
grown in the state. Peaches, apples, and sweet cherries have always been
important fruit crops in Utah. Peaches were initially the most popular crop,
but by 1875 they had been surpassed by apples, as measured by number of
trees planted. The 1910 agricultural census again showed peaches in the
lead; and, until the 1960s when cherries overtook them both, peaches and
apples alternated as the dominant crop. In recent years, sweet cherries
have also declined and tart cherries account for the growth in production
of this fruit.
Utah County continues to lead the state with over fifty percent of the fruit
trees in production, and that county produces the majority of all major
fruits except apricots. Box Elder County is the second largest producer,
followed by Weber and Davis counties. Cache, Washington, Grand, and Emery
are the most important counties located outside of the Wasatch Front area
that also have some commercial fruit production. Sanpete and Salt Lake counties
are no longer major fruit producers. Fruits are important in several localities
throughout the state but only a small percentage of these are processed
for the larger market.
Marketing of fruit has always been a problem in Utah. Prior to the 1880s,
fruit was grown primarily for home use; however, farmers began bringing
their surplus into the cities and selling it directly on the streets. Individual
farmers often marketed their fruit directly to grocers after 1900, but produce
companies increasingly assume this function. Direct marketing to grocers
and consumers continues to be important in several locations. In the early
years of the twentieth century large growers also attempted to market their
fruit out of state themselves. Attempts to establish cooperative marketing
organizations met with little long-term success. The Utah fruit industry
has tended to lag behind those of other major fruit producing states in
the West, both in terms of the willingness of growers to upgrade their products
and in terms of advertising or other means of market development.