“The plants broke dormancy in the heat in early March, forcing us to remove their straw blanket early. The extended cold in April froze our plant canopy. This exposed the blossoms to the frost on May 28, and the remaining strawberries have now been hammered with high heat.” (My Facebook post explaining why we couldn’t do U-pick in June 2021)
This spring, I received a text from a strawberry grower north of us,, “I hate weather,” she said. From the bottom of my heart, I resonated. Weather can change in a minute, completely destroying our hopes and dreams. This spring, I actually skipped the chapter on weather with my 8th grade science students, because I could see how the weather was hammering our fields, and I couldn’t bear to talk about it.
When the soil reaches about 45 degrees, as it did unusually early in March this year, they need to be uncovered. With the eco-weeder, pitchfork, and a helpful crew, we opened the plants up to the sky, praying for favorable conditions the rest of the spring, but quaking in our hearts at the risks involved with uncovering so early.
Our fears were not unfounded. In April, we had freezing temperatures most of the month, with one week dipping as low as 18 degrees. The canopy that had been protected by straw all winter, but uncovered in March, froze off, and by May, instead of lush growth, we had a sparse covering.
May 28, all nine acres were in full bloom. Only this one section, protected by the grove, had thick, blossoming canopy; the rest was sparse and vulnerable. Frost was predicted, and we gathered the family to hastily set up our pipes for frost-protection.
The clouds lifted overnight and temperatures dropped to 32.5. If it dropped below 32, the water from the sprinklers would freeze around the blossoms and release a tiny bit of latent heat energy, which would be just enough to keep the blossoms alive. Frost protection can work, but this time, it didn’t, probably because the canopy had been so damaged in April by the extreme cold. Over the next few days, we watched the hearts of our blossoms turn black and shrivel up.
It made me feel physically ill to watch. Each day, the centers of more and more blossoms turned black, and our hearts quailed within us, as we processed the damage, and what that would mean for our customers, for our summer, and for our bottom line.
Crop loss happens. We know other farmers who have lost their crops to hail, to winter kill, to tornadoes, to rain, to drought, to Covid pandemic shutdowns.
When you lose a massive amount of potential revenue, for any reason, you reel around for awhile in shock. You gaze blankly at the wall, you wonder about the future, you agonize over your decisions, trying to figure out if you could have done it differently.
We lost 95% of our strawberry crop in 2021, but we aren’t ruined as farmers, and this is because we have implemented a lot of risk management strategies.