North Carolina is the nation’s third largest strawberry producing state, and despite some unexpected cool weather this spring, the state appears to be headed for another bumper crop.
According to Debby Wechsler, executive-director of the North Carolina Strawberry Association, a number of days with temperatures below 50 degrees in March delayed the beginning of strawberry season by 10 days or so.
“Last year our season started earlier than usual and this year we are later than normal, but warm days in April across the state have helped the crop begin to develop rapidly,” she says.
Some farmers in the eastern part of North Carolina have already begun picking berries and in more heavily concentrated areas in the western mountains, picking is expected to begin by May 1. Much of the crop is expected to mature across the state by mid-May, Wechsler adds.
One of the state’s most recognizable growers, Lee Berry, who owns the Berry Patch — site of the world’s largest strawberry, in Ellerbe, N.C., says, “I kept careful track of the spring weather and used double row covers to protect my berries from frost, which brought them in about 7 to 10 days before other growers in the area.”
“Last year, I had the best crop ever on record, getting about three pounds of strawberries per plant. I don’t know that we’ll get there this year, but we should get at least 2.5 pounds per plant, and with the right weather could get three pounds again this year, Berry says.
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One of the state’s longest running strawberry operations is Ingram Farm in High Point, N.C. Rhonda and Dean Ingram are the fifth generation strawberry growers there and they report, “The quality and shape of our berries should be better than last year when the season started so early the pollinators didn’t have a chance to get going.”
“Our biggest concern with this late season is that the weather could get hot very quickly, and we really need it to stay mild for the plants to see an extended season. Strawberries do not tolerate high heat and flowering begins to shut down when temperatures are 90 degrees or higher,” she adds.
Mothers Day is a big sales event for strawberry growers in North Carolina and China Grove, N.C., grower Doug Patterson says. “We are really excited about having strawberries for Mother’s Day this year.
“All our strawberries have been gone by Mother’s Day weekend for the past two or three years, but thanks to the cool spring this year our berries should be at their peak for the May 12th weekend.”
North Carolina strawberries generated nearly $30 million in revenue last year, ranking the state only behind California and Florida in strawberry production.
Statewide, growers are predicting comparable yields and possibly better quality for 2013 than was recorded for 2012, which was an excellent year for berry production in the state.