Cool weather is helpful to some strawberry crops, hinders others


Some farmers say the cool weather is good for their crop, allowing slow and steady picking which should extend the season to Independence Day on more farms than usual.

“We can keep up with the berries,” said Martha Robinson, who manages the strawberry crop on Johnston Fruit Farm west of Swanton. “Usually when you start picking you're so busy you don't know which end is up.”

But others in northwest Ohio fear their sunlight-deprived berries stand a higher chance of disease than usual, which could shorten the season, said Sandy Kuhn, a berry expert with Ohio State University Extension.

In Ohio, 18 percent of strawberries were harvested by Sunday, according to yesterday's crop report from the Ohio Agricultural Statistics Services. In the same week last year, the service reported 25 percent of the crop was harvested.

Those numbers include harvest in southern Ohio, which is much further along than the northwest corner of the state, where many farmers have just started to pick berries.

George Thompson of Springfield Township started picking Wednesday. But even though rain kept pickers out of the fields part of the week, they didn't fall behind.

“The problem is they're just not getting ripe very fast,” he said. “The demand is there and I just can't keep up with the demand.”

He predicts a longer than usual season for farmers with well drained soils. That's good for marketing, giving local consumers more time to eat fresh berries. But it could leave growers short of pickers because migrants likely would move to harvest cucumbers, which pays more.

On many farms, the berries appear to be flavorful, and many are large, which is good for farmers because it takes fewer to fill quarts.

Mr. Thompson charges $2.50 to $3 a quart for most berries. Some of the most perfect strawberries he plans to package to sell to caterers for a higher price.

Across the state, most picked berries cost $2 to $2.75 a quart, or about 25 cents higher than last year, said Ms. Kuhn. Pick-your-own charges are 80 cents to $1.20 a pound. A quart box usually holds about a pound and a half of berries.

Strawberries are not yet ripening quickly enough for many local farms to open their pick-your-own fields.

At Polter's Berry Farm, Inc., east of Fremont, Dan Polter's crews just started picking strawberries Saturday.