Freezing temperatures put strawberry crops in danger

By Rachel Lucas - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

MONETA (WSLS 10) - The mild winter turned frigid cold is affecting locally grown crops.

Earlier this month, temperatures were near 70. This week, they've dropped below freezing. Not only is this concerning for farmers, it's an issue for consumers. A lower yield could mean higher prices for produce down the road.

Walking through the greening fields at Scott's Strawberry farm in Moneta, it's easy to see that Mother Nature has not only tricked the strawberry plants into blooming early, but has also taken its toll during freezing nights.

While she's no stranger to harsh weather during her long tenure has a farmer, owner Alice Morgan said this year is a first.

"I've never seen this many days in a spring with the temperatures so low, day and night. So this will be a new experience with the berries to see what it's done," Morgan said.

But the outlook isn't good for those early bloomers. Many have lost their petals and although some have survived, the month of March is still far from over.

Morgan said they can use irrigation systems installed in the fields to spray water over the plants to protect against frost. As experience has taught her; however, a freeze is too much to handle.

"You are going to lose the berries. We did this a few years back. The temperatures got down to 19. It was a really hard freeze and we lost over half of them, irrigating them," Morgan said.

She said those that do survive using the irrigation method will usually die later of disease from too much moisture. She said luckily there is grass growing near her plant, which could provide protection for the blooms.

Now, it is just a waiting game until the temperature rises and the majority of her strawberries bloom.

Morgan said that she hopes to get about 70-percent of her crop, enough to be able to fill the shelves for her business and for the annual strawberry festival. This year's anticipated event is over Mother's Day weekend.

The three-day festival is a beloved tradition in the region. Many come from miles away to buy produce or hand-pick fresh strawberries. Morgan said no matter the outcome of her crop, she won't plan on selling any other strawberries that aren't grown right there on her farm.

"We'll have the festival whether we have berries or not. That's the plan," Morgan said.

But for business and tradition sake, she's hoping there will be baskets to go around.

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