Recent warm temperatures followed by freezing cold may forecast another difficult season for strawberry growers who faced a drop in production in 2009.
Statewide, strawberry production fell by 2 percent last year compared with 2008, and the numbers were down for blueberries and raspberries as well, according to the New York field office of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
But despite the shortened supply, all three berries yielded increased profits for the farmers with a successful harvest.
Experts say berries all have their own peculiar needs and some, like strawberries, are susceptible to quick weather changes.
Total 2009 strawberry production in New York — which ranks ninth in the nation for strawberries — is estimated at 4.4 million pounds, compared with 4.5 million pounds in 2008.
But the value of those strawberries went up statewide by 21 percent, with farmers earning $9.02 million compared with $7.43 million in 2008.
Glenville farmer Keith Buhrmaster of Buhrmaster Farms said 2009 was a bad year for strawberries, a primary crop there.
He believes weather played a major role in low production.
Buhrmaster said strawberries planned for picking in the spring of 2009 were planted in the spring of 2008.
The winter that followed brought rapid fluctuations in the weather with the temperature reaching 60 degrees one day and then freezing the next.
In this type of situation, Buhrmaster said, the plants die off during the winter.
He said it’s too early to tell if last month’s unseasonably warm temperatures will lead to low production this year.
“So far we haven’t had that extreme weather fluctuation. What this warm weather will do, we’ll have to just see,” he said.
“If it goes down to zero again, we might have a problem again. If it goes down gradually, it’ll be all right. It’s the sudden drop,” Buhrmaster said.
Farmers cover their strawberry plants with a mulch of hay or straw to protect them from winter damage, said Laura McDermott, regional agricultural specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Capital District Vegetable and Small Fruit Program.
McDermott said the warm temperatures around Christmastime last year were followed by a cold snap, similar to the one late last month.
“The plants can dry out so severely in this kind of weather, and the crowns freeze. I’m afraid that we may experience a similar loss of plants … it only takes a few hours at the wrong temperature and you can lose a lot of plants,” McDermott said.
Blueberries were damaged by hail storms depending on where the farm was, and raspberries were hit by heavy rain when they were supposed to be blooming and, following pollination, developing fruits, McDermott said.
The state’s farmers grew roughly 2.4 million pounds of blueberries in 2009, down 4 percent from 2008’s 2.5 million pounds.
But the value of the crop increased from $4.11 million to $4.56 million, according to the USDA.
New York farmers produced 1.5 million pounds of raspberries in 2009, down 17 percent from 1.8 million pounds in 2008.
Like the other berries, the value of raspberries increased by 3 percent to $4.05 million in 2009.
McDermott said that in general the value of available berries increases when supply is down.
But she said consumers are likely responsible for the increase in value farmers are seeing.
“Year after year we’re getting more interest from local consumers for locally grown products, so the demand continues to increase whether or not our production rises.”
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