“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.
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12 thoughts on “Why We Lost Our Crop; farmer series 2”
Thank you for sharing your story. As a part time MN resident, your strawberries are a highlight of my summer. Thank you also for being open to collaborating on research efforts. While clearly this didn’t work out well, research and experimentation is crucial to innovation and I applaud you for being open to it.
Farming is not for cowards. Whether it is grain/ livestock/ vegetables/fruit. There is always risk. You pour your heart and soul (and finances) into raising a crop/livestock and it’s the best feeling when you deliver a product that the consumers loves. When disaster strikes, the pit in your stomach is excruciating.
None of this goes unnoticed by our Heavenly Father. I can say this because I’ve been a farmer all my life. God always has a plan, it usually isn’t the same as ours. So despite the calamity, He is working. You will learn things about yourself (good and bad) you will learn things about your operation, your family and community. You will acquire knowledge to help in the future. You will be back! And we will be there to once again pick your most delicious berries for our jams, jellies and pies. Hang in there! Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for raising strawberries!
Thank you for sharing your story! I remember reading all your posts and emails this past year. It was heartbreaking for your family to lose so much of your crop. Your story brings more insight and understanding to all of us. I was fortunate enough to have been able to buy some pre-picked berries from you at the very beginning of your season. Those berries turned into delicious strawberry 🍓 jam. Some of that jam went to Tennessee this past weekend for our grandson to enjoy. He says your berries are the best! We wish you all the best for a great 2022 season and look forward to seeing you on the farm.
I grew up on a farm. My sister and brother-in-law own one. You can’t be a farmer without the love of the land. It’s risky in so many ways and it certainly isn’t for most. I have bought strawberries from this wonderful family for many years. This past year has been devastating for them. I hope and pray this new year will be a good year for them. It’s a lot of work and love on their part. Blessings to them!
We have farmed for 60 years and have experienced several years of hail damage, drought and flooded fields. I could right a book of all the high and lows of farming but with the love of God, we are still living on the farm. Now our son has taken over the farm. Keep God in you heart and you will prosper. Farming is a good way of life.
As a vineyard operator I totally get your pain and frustration with Spring weather fluctuations. We too have had years that bud break comes earlier than planned, and a late frost leaves us looking at wilted, black shoots. But, also like you we get up the next morning, walk the fields, survey the damage and make whatever plans needed to carry on-a cycle that every farmer is too familiar with. When I was first married I would laugh at my husband when he would comment on how he totally against gambling-yep, farmers-the biggest rollers of the dice there are. Each year brings a fresh opportunity-I know you will all be out there in the fields-admiring the beauty you work so hard for!
Thank you all for sharing your stories. Sarah and family . . . I remember receiving the email telling us about last year’s crop. I read it. And sat here . . . staring at my computer. I really had no words. None.
And then I remembered. I saw my dad cry only two times in my life . . . in his short 46 years of life. I’m sure there were more tears, but he was not one to share his sad moments with us. One was when his father passed away and the other was an average afternoon on the farm. We “walked” our bean fields and always rejoiced when we finished this difficult task. On this average day, we finished and planned our little humble celebration . . . when everything took a turn for the worse. The skies became ominous and we had just enough time to take shelter. We watched the hail come out of the skies. We stood there. There were no words.
And my dad cried.
We weep together in our losses. We rejoice together in our joys. We need each other. And we need God.
Psalm 18:28 “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.”
Sad for loss. Very sad.
Yet – having HOPE in Him.
I’m praying for you & for a successful crop this year. I feel so bad for you for your crop loss from last year & hope this year will be much better.
I remember reading your e-mail when you announced the loss of the strawberry crop in 2021 and I couldn’t imagine how terrible the entire family must have felt. In 2020 our family purchased 10 or 12 flats of pre-picked berries to share between 4 households, after picking them up at your farm we all got together to process the berries and get them all into one upright freezer. Over the weekend I walked into the garage that housed that freezer and it smelled like the garage had turned into a brewery . There was red juice running out the door of the failed freezer and all the berries were lost ( it was a good thing that we had moved all the meats to a different location to make room for the new crop of berries). So goes; “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. This year we were lucky enough to get some of the early pre-picked berries and everyone agreed to eat them all fresh and not to trust a freezer with any of them.
Thank you for all the work your family does to provide us with our favorite dessert. Wishing your family a bountiful harvest in 2022 and every year thereafter.
I was very sorry to hear you lost your crop. Know when I received your first e-mail regarding your strawberries, did not know you would lose everything and for someone to say, “you disappointed them.” How unreal – must have been a “Karen.” Praying that next year’s crop will be double in size and that He will provide for you in ways you would never think of.
Sarah, reading this tonight I thought of the times I silently prayed for crop protection while listening to the hail on the roof of the house. Farmers dont know what wage they will earn until after the harvest. Yet, God is faithful to care for us. May you have a bountiful year in 2022. Blessings!
So true. Thanks Betty!