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DESTRUCTIVE FROSTS PUT BITE ON JOBS FOR YOUTHS DURING FRUIT SEASON

SHARE DESTRUCTIVE FROSTS PUT BITE ON JOBS FOR YOUTHS DURING FRUIT SEASON

Late April and early May frosts not only destroyed most of southern Utah County's annual $10 million fruit crop, they've also pared back summer employment for many area teens.

In Payson, many farms that would have employed youths in their roadside sales stands and for picking have instead been forced to lay off some help.Muir-Roberts Inc. - a fruit processing company that typically employs between 80 to 90 high-school-age youths in its Payson plant - would usually start gearing up its processing lines this week.

Instead, Muir-Roberts has canceled its local operations, and the story is not much brighter for other area fruit-processing plants.

"It's been a tough thing for this valley; we'll probably be cutting back to 25 to 30 percent of our operations," said Claude Rowley, plant manager of Payson Fruit Growers Inc., which also employs local youths for part-time processing jobs.

Rowley said the disastrous frosts have caused the plant to cut its processing season from 21 days to 12 or 13, and to use three of five processing and handling lines during that time.

"We try to help the area kids, but we've had to cut back this year for our own survival. We can only employ as many as we can afford to."

Muir-Roberts, on the other hand, will not be employing any part-time help this year, plant manager Bob Wright said.

"It's been very hard on us. There's been no sweet cherries to process, and our tart (or pie) cherries have been reduced to about 25 percent. It's pretty well wiped out the valley."

Consequently, Muir-Roberts will only employ its full-time help, who will help process what fruit the plant receives for its Provo and other area plants, Wright said.

Also, since the area apple crop was cut down to about 10 percent of a typical yield, the plant will be processing those for fresh markets, Wright said.

"It was almost a total wipeout, as far as this year's crops go. I guess we'll just have to look forward to next year."

Payson Fruit Growers, which purchased new equipment last year for the season's processing - including new freezers - will now be processing only about one-third of the cherry crops it expected, Rowley said.

"It's been very hard the past few years. The area has had some really bad luck."

However, Rowley said he is glad to employ at least some youths, though for a shorter time than usual.

"The ones I feel sorry for are the farmers. The apple frost destruction is the worst I've ever seen." Rowley himself is also a farmer.

Though the numbers show the freeze was one of the worst the area has ever seen, Utah County's fruit industry, as a whole, will survive the disaster, Rowley said.

"But for the 15 or 20 major growers who rely on their fruit crops for a living, this is a total disaster. It's like when your neighbor's house burns down: You're happy it wasn't your house, but you're sorry for him. It's still a total loss for him."