Weather, virus may limit strawberry crop

Apr. 11, 2013 @ 05:22 PM

There might be a smaller strawberry crop due to cold weather and virus in early spring, but fear not! There will still be plenty of sweet berry goodness to go around.

But be prepared for smaller strawberries appearing in pies and cakes later this spring.

After last spring’s unseasonably warm weather, farmers were picking strawberries in the last week of March, N.C. Cooperative Extension horticulture agent for Union County Jeff Rieves said. Temperatures have been the opposite this year, with bitterly cold weather reaching into April.

“But that’s just spring in North Carolina,” Rieves said. “We can’t always predict what the weather will be like.”

Local strawberry farmers have covered their plants to protect against frost, but it prevented bees from properly pollinating berry buds. That usually makes for smaller fruit, Rieves said.

“It will probably be a sparse first crop,” he said. “If we get a week of 80 degree weather and the bees get to working, there may be more, but they won’t be as pretty as the strawberries we’re used to.”

None of the local growers report the plant virus plaguing some farms in the northern part of the state, said Dr. E. Barclay Poling, an N.C. State University emeritus professor of horticulture and self-described Strawberry Doc. Those farms bought plants from a Nova Scotia company which developed signs of a virus that stunts growth. Those growers make up only about 12 percent of the state’s total strawberry production, he said, accounting for only about a 5 percent reduction in the 2013 crop.

“In a normal year, we have the potential to produce about 28,800,000 pounds with 1,600 acres,” Poling wrote in an email Wednesday. The average yield is about 18,000 pounds per acre. He estimated the infected plants might produce 11,900 pounds per acre.

“Thus, we will have about 95 to 96 percent of a normal crop, and virtually no impact on price,” he wrote. “Instead of eating about 78 berries each, we may have at our disposal 74-75 berries - not a crisis, do you think?”

So, do not panic. We will have a respectable strawberry harvest even if the rest of the state does not. And even if we must wait until mid-May for the first batch of strawberry preserves, it will be worth it.

“If we can ever get them up to size, I think we’ll have a pretty strong crop,” Rieves said.