Cold snap will delay strawberries, increase cost

Johnny Morgan  |  1/19/2018 3:00:04 PM

(01/19/18) BATON ROUGE, La. — The recent cold snap is causing strawberry growers to go into babysitting-mode, using cloth covers to save their early crop.

Many farmers double-covered their strawberries to hold warmer air near the plants and keep the frigid temperatures out, said Whitney Wallace, LSU AgCenter agent in Tangipahoa Parish. Wallace expects growers to begin removing the covers as temperatures moderate in the next few days.

Growers will likely lose any blooms that were already on the plants. That will cut into the early crop that helps growers cover operating costs, and set the fruit back two to three weeks, Wallace said.

“This time of the year, berries can bring in a higher market price,” she said. “So yes, this will hurt some farmers, but hopefully not all.”

It takes 21 days from blossom to berry.

“Our growers plant a number of different varieties,” Wallace said. “They can bloom anywhere from November through March. It just depends on what the farmer planted.”

Planting different varieties helps stretch out the strawberry growing season, she said, which is great for both farmers and consumers.

Using covers during cold weather affects growers’ bottom line because it adds to labor costs, she said.

Strawberry production in the state has been on the decline for the past decade, mainly due to a shortage of labor, urbanization and farmers advancing in age.

Wallace said Tangipahoa Parish, where most of the state’s production is located, has between nine to 12 major commercial growers.

“If you include the backyard growers, that number jumps up considerably,” Wallace said. “There has been a decrease in commercial farm numbers, but not in acreage.”

In 2016, 73 farmers grew strawberries Louisiana, and production was valued at $17 million, according to the AgCenter Ag Summary. There were 369 acres in the state, with 290 acres in Tangipahoa Parish.

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Row covers are used to protect strawberry plants during cold weather in an LSU AgCenter archived photo. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter.

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