Strawberry growers experiencing delays due to cold spring weather
Berry growers around the state say their strawberries are coming in slow, but steady, due to the cold spring weather.
Dave Dulske, of Cee Dee Acres Market in Plover, said he hopes to start picking strawberries by this weekend, but that's "pushing it." Dulske said his berries are about 10 days behind the average harvest, although he said they're catching up quickly. Growers in southern parts of Wisconsin had to irrigate their crops to avoid a freeze, he said.
"Ours were, at that time, way behind normal, so therefore they weren't getting to that blossom stage where we had to worry about freezing," Dulske said.
Danielle Clark of Mayberry Farms in Dodge County said she had to do exactly that in mid-May. This was the first time she had to manage frost through irrigation in her four years of strawberry growing.
She said the most challenging part of the job is not being able to tell customers exactly when the farm will open up because "it's so unpredictable." The recent storms forced a one-day delay in opening, Clark said.
But for now, Clark said she's happy with how her strawberries are coming along. Right now, her farm is offering Galletta variety strawberries, and later this season will offer Jewel, Cabot and AC Valley Sunset varieties.
"Right now we’re doing really good," Clark said. "We couldn’t ask for anything better. We have sunshine, the strawberries have enough moisture in the ground and it's just actually beautiful weather to be out here picking."
Dulske said his crops have been on the dry side, though - he said he's irrigated his berries eight times this year, while last year he had so much rainfall he almost didn't have to irrigate at all.
Dulske also said he hasn't had any issues with animals getting into the berries, but Craig Carpenter, president of the Wisconsin Berry Growers Association, said deer and cranes are eating his crops.
"I just had to have the dogs chase out a deer right in the middle of the strawberry fields, eating either foliage or berries this morning," Carpenter said. "We have a pair of sandhill cranes that love to come in and poke a hole through the biggest, juiciest berry and move on to the next one."
Carpenter, who runs Gracie's Berries with his daughters outside Madison, said that when he talked to other growers in the association, most of the southern growers are open for business, while northern growers like Dulske are too far behind to open yet. Carpenter said he and other farmers had a hard time finding straw last year, which traps moisture to help strawberries survive winter.
Sandy soil does well in heavy rains, Carpenter said, but the extra rainwater also washes out some of the flavor profile of his strawberries. He said he had to close for a few days after storms earlier this month.
Even so, he said customers picked a record amount of strawberries from his farm last weekend.
"We got totally picked out over this weekend," Carpenter said. "Every day we were open this year, there were record amounts of pounds taken out of the berry field."