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Published: Thursday, 5/30/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Area strawberry crop sizing up quite sweetly

Prices expected to remain stable this year

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Steve Polter, owner of  Polter's Berry Farm near Fremont, picks strawberries for sale for this weekend. Steve Polter, owner of Polter's Berry Farm near Fremont, picks strawberries for sale for this weekend.
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This season’s strawberry crop probably is still a week or two away from its peak, but area growers say the weather has broken perfectly this spring to produce an above-average crop with very sweet berries of good size.

Even sweeter: Prices likely will remain the same as last year or increase only slightly.

“Our strawberry crop looks really good this year,” said Martha Mora, owner of Johnston Fruit Farm in Swanton. “I think with the cold, unpredictable weather these last two years, people didn’t really know what to expect. But I think the nice, slow spring that we had made the plants bloom and sized the berries up more than it normally does,” she said.

“We had to frost-protect the crop a few nights, turn the irrigation on to protect them. But on our farm, it looks like it’s going to be a big crop,” Ms. Mora said.

Workers at the Swanton fruit farm will start picking strawberries this weekend and should have a limited amount for sale. The price will be $3.25 a quart, the same as last year, and when the berries have ripened enough in a week or so, you-pick berries will be sold for $1.25 a pound, also the same as last year, Ms. Mora said.

“With this warm weather we’ve got, it will bring them along quickly. I’d say in another week we’ll be in full swing and by midmonth or the third week [of June,] it will be very good for pick-your-own berries,” she added.

Polter’s Berry Farm in Fremont began harvesting strawberries Tuesday to sell this weekend, and owner Steve Polter plans to open the farm for pick-your-own business on June 10. So far, the early crop of berries is large, ripe, and very sweet, he said.

“I think we’re right on schedule. It looked like it might be a late season, but then May warmed up and everything just ripened,” Mr. Polter said. “The size looks beautiful on the early crop, and the later crop [which will be ready in two weeks] looks average or above-average,” he added.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Ohio farmers planted 740 acres of strawberries in 2012 and harvested 660 acres. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Ohio farmers planted 740 acres of strawberries in 2012 and harvested 660 acres.
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Mr. Polter said the early crop will be down in yield from last year, but that’s because last year’s crop was above average.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Ohio farmers planted 740 acres of strawberries in 2012, harvested 660 acres, and produced about 2.8 million pounds of strawberries. In 2011, the state produced 2.6 million pounds.

“Last year was an exceptional year. We picked really early in May and we had a long cool season to pick them and it was just perfect,” Mr. Polter said. “This year, it’s more normal. It was cool and then it switched to the 90s. That wasn’t ideal, but that’s Ohio,” he said.

Mr. Polter said his berries may be priced a little higher, though he hasn’t set the price yet. He’s considering charging $1.65 a pound, up a dime from last year. Mr. Polter said production costs have been going up but he has not raised prices in five years.

“Plants, fertilizer, water, fuel, irrigation costs all went up,” he said.

At Creque’s Greenhouse in Sylvania, this year’s strawberry crop is probably five to seven days from being ready to harvest, “but so far it looks good,” co-owner Tom Creque said.

“It’s a little late because of the cool April and March, but that’s actually sometimes better for the plant because it doesn’t dry them out,” he added.

This year’s crop is a little better than last year and will produce a nice yield assuming there are not sudden weather disruptions, Mr. Creque said.

“There’s a lot of flowers on the plant; some are still green, so we could use a little heat,” he said.

Creque’s plans to hold the line on its prices, charging $3.50 a quart for picked berries and $1.50 a quart for pick-your-own.

Jeff Rhodes, owner of Rhodes Garden Fresh Market in Toledo, said the growers he has spoken to have said to expect big, ripe, and sweet strawberries, but not for another week or two at least.

“I’ve talked to three different growers recently and they all told me it probably would be another week or so. They said they got a good early start and then the cold set them back a little,” he said.

Mr. Rhodes said last year’s prices were about as high as customers would accept, so retailers likely won’t increase prices this year.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

chavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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