Despite strawberry harvest behind schedule, Michigan growers enjoy ‘good year’ | Michigan Farm News

Despite a late strawberry harvest, Michigan growers enjoy a 'good year'

Category: Fruits & Vegetables

by Mitch Galloway | Farm News Media

farmnews_strawberries_crop
Despite yields still not “where I want them,” Southwest Michigan grower Trever Meachum said the quality of this year’s strawberries was good.

A cool, wet spring meant delayed plantings for many Michigan commodities.

This was not the case for the state’s strawberry growers, who had an “excellent quality” 2019 crop despite harvesting strawberries eight to 10 days behind schedule.

“Here, in Southwest Michigan, it was a pretty good strawberry year,” said Mark Longstroth, small fruit educator for Michigan State University Extension. “There was abundant rain but no winter injury; that may not be true for everyone. Spring was wet and cool and there were delayed plantings (in other crops), but it didn’t get too hot, (and) fruit size was pretty good this year.”

Longstroth worked with roughly a dozen strawberry growers this Michigan harvest season, which usually ends in June in southern counties and later for northern operations.

He said previous hot-weather June harvests resulted in strawberries that ripened too quickly.

“This year, that didn’t happen,” Longstroth told Michigan Farm News.

Despite yields still not “where I want them,” Southwest Michigan grower Trever Meachum said the quality of this year’s strawberries was good.

“It was an OK strawberry year,” said Meachum, production manager at the Hartford-based High Acres Fruit Farm, a diversified fruit and vegetable cash-crop operation. “There were minimal damages from the polar vortex (in January), but there were pollination issues due to the cool, wet weather during bloom, which affected yields.”

According to Meachum, the five-year average for their strawberry yields is down 20 to 25 percent due to the weather. Still, he said this year’s crop benefited from a lack of heat and rain during the harvest season, which avoided “a lot of diseases.”

“Yields weren’t there, but the quality was good,” Meachum said.

SUPPLY DOWN, DEMAND UP

Meachum said area strawberry growers are seeing more demand for fresh-picked local strawberries.

“There’s more demand than fruit is available,” he said. “We see that people are driving to Chicago after they pick up our product. … I just wish I had more strawberries to give them.

“We had to keep customers at bay because we had more customers than strawberries.”

High Acres Fruit Farm in Van Buren County grows strawberries, apples, plums, juice grapes, specialty tomatoes, and row crops. The family-farm has roughly 5,500 acres.

At the retail level, Meachum sold strawberries for $3.50 per quart, a price that didn’t faze his local farm marketers.

“Farm marketers come Friday and buy a load of berries,” he said, noting that some customers didn’t fret about prices because they “will take what you have and double the price when they resell them in a larger urban area,” such as Chicago.

FUTURE CONCERNS?

A pest that’s creating many problems for Michigan fruit growers is the potato leafhopper, a tree fruit insect, according to MSU’s Longstroth.

“It’s a little tiny insect that feeds on the plant leaves,” he said. “This causes leaves on plants to crinkle up and stunts the plants. It’s a problem in strawberries, apples, berries, some ornamentals, and alfalfa.”

Longstroth said this pest is “abundant this year,” so strawberry growers should be concerned for future harvests and apply the correct insecticide.

“The potato leafhopper can affect next year’s crop quality,” Meachum of High Acres said. “They were nothing to worry about during this harvest season, but it can affect future crops.”

Each week, the Michigan Farm News will cover a specialty crop affected by weather, trade, or labor. Contact Mitch Galloway at [email protected] if you have a story to share.