Not a Great Weather Day for Strawberries! (Noon, Thur, 5/5/16)

— Written By Barclay Poling
en Español

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Dear Agents, Agronomists, Growers and Friends,

A grower from the western piedmont of North Carolina just texted me:

“48 and raining”

Yesterday, I spoke to a number of growers  from NC, SC and VA, and the really great news is the earlier season this year, and superb customer demand! But,  the part of this picture that is not working well is the weather of this last week! In my 3 plus decades of working with this crop in the Carolinas and Virginia, I cannot recall having nearly a solid week of rainy and overcast conditions at the end of April, and now into early May? With Mother’s Day weekend right upon us, it really needs to STOP raining TODAY!

A number of growers have been commenting to me about,  “What a great crop this has been until this recent rainy weather!”  Today’s rains appear to be very widespread. In speaking to a grower from Central VA just a minute ago, he was commenting on how he was fortunate to get picked through yesterday without too much problem, but these current rains are forcing him to close today, and probably tomorrow (Friday) as well.

Fortunately, not all areas have been experiencing the multiple rains  rains that have plagued  growers in the upper and central piedmont of North Carolina since last Thursday, which was also the day when severe hail hit many of this areas’ strawberry patches. What was striking about the hailstorm last Thursday afternoon and evening was just how many growers were impacted by the same storm? It literally “took out” fields that were just entering “prime picking” from Greensboro to Faison! I have never seen anything like it?

I am happy to report that other production areas, like Salisbury and China Grove, NC, were pretty much unaffected by all this weather! One large producer wrote me on Monday afternoon this week to say:

“Thank the Lord for the prettiest crop we have ever seen!”  He has already picked over 10,000 lbs/A (Camarosa).

From Easley, SC, I received this very positive note from Eric Hunter on Monday of this week (5/2), and I called him yesterday to see if it would be ok to reprint his report here…I  told him that many of us really needed to hear some good news!

Hey Dr. Poling,
I’ve sat down to email you a number of times the past couple of weeks and have gotten distracted every time. I hate to hear that about the farms in NC that had so much rain and hail. Our little experience with hail last year is all I care to have and my prayers go out to them.

So far the season has been fantastic. The demand has been greater than any other season I have seen so far. Crowds have been incredible. Saturday was a record setting day for us – it makes me wonder just how big this coming Saturday has the potential to be. As of today, we have already grossed 70% of what we did the entire year last season.

Our Camarosa have picked very good. My pickers have been averaging 16-18 gallons per hour. That is beginning to slow, though, as our heaviest picking is behind us. From this point forward it should be rather steady. The plants are still blooming nicely and I see a good number of buds still emerging from the crown. Berries have been incredibly large and very sweet. The Chandlers came in about 10 days later than the Cams and they have been picking very good as well with a heavy bloom count. Despite that, Chandler is beginning to become less and less attractive to me. If I continue growing Chandlers, I am going to plant a little later, or perhaps go to the cut off’s as you suggested.

No disease or pest issues to speak of. Weather could not have been better thus far. We have seen some showers and thunderstorms the past couple of nights and that will continue into tomorrow night, but nothing terrible. We have stayed caught up on picking so there has been little damage to berries despite some of the showers being very heavy and the plants/berries remaining wet all night. I haven’t made a fungicide spray since late March. I will begin to do a weekly application for SWD beginning in the next week to 10 days just as a precautionary measure and will be scouting for mites today. I am seeing some heavy weed pressure unlike any other year, especially with vetch. I’m assuming the mild winter may have aided that.”

Editor’s note:  I truly appreciate this report from Eric, and in a related question about SWD and hail damage, I just got this very helpful note just now from Dr. Hannah Burrack, NCSU:

Hail will not make fruit more attractive to SWD; they generally prefer undamaged fruit. Hail and wet weather may make fruit more attractive to other fruit flies, and growers should be careful not to confuse the two. If fruit appear marketable but are found to contain larvae, that’s likely SWD. If fruit appear damaged prior to harvest, that’s likely native fruit flies.

Editor’s note:  I also had a question from a grower in Eastern NC yesterday about Stink bugs, and Hannah pointed out that Stink bugs are not an economic pest in strawberries, which is why they are not in the IPM guide.

Better weather and days ahead!

Well, the rain is finally lightening up some here in N. Raleigh this early afternoon, and I am not hearing any more thunder! It would be great if this whole “mess” could clear out of here today. In looking at my morning SkyBit for Clayton I do see what appears to be a good forecast for Saturday and Sunday (Mother’s Day). Amen!20160505st1.NCCLY


…hopefully we’ll get some clearing and warming up soon!Every strawberry season presents some sort of challenges, but this wet weather pattern that many of you have been in since Thursday of last week, has been particularly upsetting.