Berry farmers having patch of trouble

BY ERIN MARSHALL | JUNE 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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The month of June may not be the prime month for picking strawberries after all.

Although You-Pick strawberries — in which customers pick strawberries and pay by weight — are a common summer activity, much of the strawberry picking has ended.

Strawberries begin ripening in early June, and they peak for a short amount of time.

David Lacina, co-owner of Northern Ridge Berry Farm near Oxford, Iowa, said the harsh winter has affected his strawberry crop.

“It pretty much ruined our strawberry crop,” he said.

Lacina said the farm also lost approximately 350 out of 500 blueberry plants.

However, Pat Dierickx on Pride of the Wapsi Farm near Long Grove, Iowa, attributes the crops’ condition to the spring weather, not the harsh winter.

“I would say that we were minimally affected by the long winter,” he said. “It wasn’t so much the winter, it was the subsequent days up to the harvest.”

The strawberries were slow to grow in the spring. A spurt of hot weather caused the strawberries to advance in maturity, Dierickx said. Following the heat, a brief period of cool, wet weather caused the berries to become more prone to disease.

Lacina is looking ahead to the future. He said Northern Ridge plans to start a new strawberry patch this summer or fall.

“We have a lot of people who want to come out and pick,” he said.

Dierickx said Wapsi Farm is also experiencing the same issues.

“We have shut down the You-Pick portion of our strawberries because we had an unbelievable outpouring of people that came and picked us clean,” he said. “We’re currently in a lull waiting for more.”

Dierickx said the hot weather predicted for the next five days might cause the You-Pick portion of the farm to close for the year.

“I’m not sure that we’re going to reopen,” he said about the You-Pick season.

Farmers are not the only ones affected.

Local businesses have been compensating for the loss of local strawberries. Mike Krogh, the produce coordinator for New Pioneer Food Co-op, 22 S. Van Buren Street, said the strawberry season in Iowa is typically brief.

“Generally, local strawberries have a very short availability,” he said. “It just kind of depends on the weather that year. This year was just maybe an average year.”

Although New Pioneer received strawberries from two different farmers this year, Krogh does not anticipate receiving any more locally grown berries. He said the Co-op has received local strawberries for an average of two weeks.

New Pioneer will now begin to purchase strictly California-grown berries because of the short season in Iowa.

While the strawberry season was short-lived, patrons at New Pioneer enjoyed the temporary availability of the berries.

“Usually, there’s a decent response from our customers,” Krogh said.

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