The earliness of the strawberry crop created a bit of a marketing problem in some areas, said Jeremy Pattison, North Carolina State University strawberry breeder.

Statewide, the yield this year may be very different from the last two years. “We had two “under-yielding” crops, said Pattison. “This one is going to put us back to normal in terms of yield, and consumers will be will be pleased with the quality and supply.”

Harvest of the strawberry crop in North Carolina normally stops around the first week of June, said Pattison. “After that, it gets so hot the plant stops being reproductive and the growth goes into the runners and the canopy.”

One of the worst problems for Ball was a heavy rain on April 28 that came after an extended dry period in Wake County. “The plants sucked up a lot of water. That led to some fruit which was juicy but did not hold up very well,” he said. “That fruit deteriorated quickly. I had to remove it because it could create a disease problem.”

An oddity of this season in the Raleigh area was that there were no big rains over the winter and then no big rains during the season until late April.

A few years ago, strawberry growers were excited about the possibility of growing their fruit in “high tunnels”— long, unheated plastic-covered hoop structures with frames of thin wall pipe watered with trickle irrigation.

Benefits that might be derived included a much longer harvest season, much higher yields and production at nontraditional times of the year.

It may yet be possible to gain all those advantages, but Pattison said that point hasn’t been reached yet.

“After several years of research, we are not seeing a high enough yield increase to justify the very high cost of constructing tunnels,” he said. But marketing could increase the return from tunnels and make it more affordable.

“By early forcing of the crop, we consistently get a week advantage by using the tunnels. If we were to regularly have strawberries ready for sale in early April, that might increase the interest of large scale buyers,” he said.

“I think consumers would be receptive to berries that are ready on that timing, but some education will be required.”

That might be a bit of a challenge. Because most strawberries in north Carolina are direct marketed it is difficult to train your customers, he said.

chrisbickers@gmail.com