UFO—upright fruiting offshoots—tree architecture is gaining followers around the world as cherry producers learn about its increased yield potential.

Matthew Whiting, an associate horticulture professor at Washington State University's Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center near Prosser, is leading a project to develop stem-free cherries that can be mechanically harvested. And the UFO tree-training system is integral to his efforts, according to a news release.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, through a Specialty Crops Research Initiative grant, has provided a $3.9 million, four-year grant, to help fund the collaborative research.

Planted at an angle, young trees are trained to grow upright fruiting offshoots on a two-dimensional plane.

This forces them to put more energy into developing a fruiting wall rather than nonproductive wood that's typical with a traditional canopy.

The more uprights you have the first year, the better your chances of having fruiting sooner.

Five years ago, a small group of growers in Washington, Oregon and California began planting test orchards and training trees with the UFO system.

Keith Oliver of Olsen Brothers Ranches in Prosser harvested 8.6 tons of Tieton cherries per acre from his UFO block in 2011.

The state average on 40-year-old traditional sweet cherry trees is 5 to 5.25 tons per acre.

Oliver credits the UFO system for the improved yield.

For more information on the production system, visit WSU's Sweet Cherry Research page.