Strawberry Crops Crave Cooler Weather
Posted January 27, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST
JOHNSTON COUNTY — The warm weather has some of us glowing, but it could cost growers millions. Strawberry growers, in particular, are more than a little nervous about when the cold will come.
Keith Hill's plants are four weeks ahead of schedule because of the warm weather. The problem is, the cold weather is sure to return.
"If they start blooming now, which they are, they're already blooming, then there's no way to frost-protect them until April 15," Hill says.
April 15 is opening day for Hill's Johnston County berry market. Hill's job is to protect the plants until then, but it isn't easy when the weather is so unpredictable.
Growers are still recovering from a late freeze last season that cost them 20 percent of their strawberries. The ice associated with that freeze actually saved the rest of last year's crop by insulating the plants.
If farmers had access to a week's worth of water, they could protect the plants by spraying them. But they couldn't spray for too many days in a row, because young plants simply can't handle day after day of freezing and thawing.
A quick return to cool, consistent temperatures is the best hope farmers have. But the only constant this winter has been change.
Nevertheless, farmers say they expect to have plenty of fruit for opening day. Reporter/PhotographerBrian Bowman