Recent cold weather caused a slowdown in strawberry production, and that will delay some of the sales that growers were hoping for.
Before the recent cold snap, farmers were harvesting from the plug plants they planted in September and were about ready to start harvesting from the bare-rooted plants that were planted in mid-October, according to Sandra Benjamin, LSU AgCenter agent in Tangipahoa Parish.
“All the blooms and green fruit on the bare-rooted plants were lost due to the freeze,” Benjamin said. Most farmers had been harvesting from their plug plants, which have been producing berries since November.
Plants had been covered most of December, Benjamin said.
The row covers growers used to protect their crop don’t hurt the plants, but they do allow mold to grow because they are in a greenhouse-type situation, said Ponchatoula-area grower Eric Morrow.
“This has been some of the coldest weather that we have seen in years,” Morrow said. “Anytime the weather is in the 30s, we have to cover, and that has been the case most of the month of December.”
The cold weather won’t kill the plants, Morrow said, but it slows things down so growers won’t have the berries they would like to have this month.
“Strawberry plants are really, really tough,” he said. “The cold weather actually reinvigorates them, and they’ll come on with a vengeance. In late March and April we ought to have plenty of berries.”
Benjamin said last year growers had a wet winter, especially in December, which caused a lot of plants to die.
“Too much water causing no oxygen in the root system was one problem,” she said. “Rows collapsed and plants just did not grow as well, which caused the production to be down.”
Benjamin said growers would prefer cold and freezing temperatures anytime instead of continuous rain.
About 20 commercial strawberry farmers are in the state, and about 25 home gardeners grow strawberries in Tangipahoa Parish, Benjamin said.
“The commercial growers cut down on acreage this year, so there are about 285 total acres of strawberries planted in Tangipahoa Parish,” Benjamin said. “Last season there were about 350 acres.”
The reduction in acreage is due to the loss of last year’s production, she said.
“We are not losing strawberry growers, but we’re not gaining any new growers either,” she said. “The largest operation is about 80 acres, and the others are from one to 20 acres.”