Cherry sea­son winds down in Utah County

Serve Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By Karen Wil­loughby

PAYSON – Ap­ples, nec­tarines, pears, peaches and plu­ots are com­ing on, but cherry sea­son has run its course for the 40 or fewer or­chardists in south­ern Utah County.

McMullin Or­chards was started in 1927, when Robert Wal­lace McMullin planted sweet cherry trees. The prop­erty has grown to about 900 acres in pro­duc­tion, on three sites. Grand­son Robert McMullin is “boss-man,” Plant Man­ager Carl But­ler told Serve Daily.

McMullin Or­chards is nei­ther the old-

est nor the largest or­chardist in south­ern Utah County, McMullin said. Allred Or­chards in Provo is an­other; it started in 1926. Allred added a farm in Payson in 1957 where it planted peaches, ap­ples, sweet and tart cher­ries.

Serve Daily stopped in at McMullin Or­chards’ ware­house re­cently to view its har­vest­ing oper­a­tion. Bing cher­ries were har­vested about the last week of June each year, But­ler said. Within one week, they were all gone – shipped to ma­jor sup­pli­ers or all gone from area fruit stands.

The tart cherry sea­son lasts three weeks, but it too was wind­ing down the last week of July.

When the cher­ries come in, they’re poured into thou­sand-pound buck­ets of cold wa­ter. The buck­ets’ con­tents then are poured into a clean­ing ma­chine. Peo­ple on the other end sort through the cher­ries as they come out on a roller bed that shakes off ex­cess mois­ture and spreads out the cher­ries on a sin­gle layer. Early in the sea­son as many as four lines are run­ning.

This late, work­ers on the one re­main­ing line eye-check the cher­ries be­fore they’re sent to be in­di­vid­u­ally frozen – a process that takes less than 15 min­utes when the freezer is set to 55 de­grees be­low zero – af­ter which they’re weighed in 40-lb. boxes and read­ied for ship­ment.

McMullin Or­chards har­vested about 12 mil­lion pounds of cher­ries in 2015 and ’16, though pro­jec­tions are this year will be a bit less, But­ler said.

“Weather’s prob­a­bly a big fac­tor,” the plant man­ager said, adding that he is un­fa­mil­iar with the grow­ing side of the business. “It changes every year. What­ever the Lord sends us, we ac­cept.”

Fac­tors that help or­chardists in south­ern Utah county: A cli­mate that is gen­er­ally mod­er­ate dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son – some­what shel­tered by the moun­tains on ei­ther side of the val­ley – good, if some­what rocky soil and nearby ac­cess to eas­ily-reg­u­lated ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter from Utah Lake, so trees are wa­tered con­sis­tently but no more than needed.

“The McMullin fam­ily and val­ued em­ploy­ees take great pride in cul­tural prac­tices de­signed to as­sure the fresh­est, high­est-qual­ity and best-tast­ing fruit we can offer,” ac­cord­ing to its web­site: mc­mulli­nor­chards.com.

McMullin’s 300 em­ploy­ees – mostly sea­sonal – work un­til the Oc­to­ber, flow­ing through each of their fruits as the har­vest sea­sons roll on.

Big M Frozen Stor­age in Payson, a sub­sidiary of McMullin Or­chards, of­fers 21,000 square feet of frozen, cold and dry stor­age, where it can hold frozen fruits un­til sup­pli­ers are ready for it.

Work­ers at McMullin Or­chards ex­am­ine the cher­ries to make sure of their qual­ity be­fore they are frozen, pressed for juice or other­wise pro­cessed.

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