Johnny Morgan, Bracy, Regina P.
Recent cold weather in south Louisiana will cause this year’s strawberry crop to come in a little later, but the damage is not as bad as the industry first believed, LSU AgCenter experts say.
Dr. Regina Bracy, LSU AgCenter horticulturist at the LSU AgCenter’ Hammond Research Station, said recent freezing temperatures will possibly set the crop back for nearly a month.
“It takes 21 days from flower to berry. So if the growers lose all of their flowers and berries at this time, then they will not have another crop for 21 days,” she said.
Bracy said this means growers won’t have any income during that time. In addition, cold weather adds to growers’ expenses because they have to cover the rows to try to protect the plants and possibly apply water at night.
Growers use row covers to contain the heat that accumulates in the ground and keep it over the berries, she said.
“Also, what most people don’t realize is that as water freezes, it gives off heat. So when growers apply water to the berries, this keeps the temperature of the fruit and the flowers above freezing,” she said.
The peak season for Louisiana strawberries is usually in March and April, but farmers receive more money for their crop earlier in the season. So the prime time for the farmers is November, December and January.
Eric Morrow, a Ponchatoula grower, said this year is the coldest he’s experienced in 12 years growing berries on his 13 acres.
“We’ve lost about 95 percent of the bloom crop that’s out there right now and a good bit of our green berries due to cold-weather damage and the freeze,” Morrow said.
He said this means that he won’t pick any berries for four or five weeks. This will cause a skip in the season when the market won’t see a large amount of berries, but they’ll come back later, he said.
William Fletcher, another Ponchatoula grower, said he lost about 80 percent of what was on the plants, which included ripe berries, immature berries and blooms.
“I expect a market drop in production for about a month. If we don’t see any more cold weather, production should come back,” Fletcher said.
Bracy said Louisiana produces about 300 acres of strawberries, which is down from 1,000 acres 10 years ago.
“We’re seeing the decrease in acres, but we’re also seeing some young farmers coming in, and that gives us some hope that the industry is going to continue in this area,” she said.
With newer varieties and newer growing techniques, Bracy said, growers are getting production earlier.
“In recent years, it hasn’t been uncommon for growers to start picking in November, when they can get a better price for their berries and also more yields,” she said.
Bracy said the cold weather doesn’t affect the quality of the berries if they are protected and not damaged.
“The berries that come out after this weather will be as good as any we’ve had,” she said. “In fact, cold weather does less damage than applying too much water or having too much rain.”