Local News

Strawberry farmers facing deer problem with crop

Posted December 29, 2009 7:04 p.m. EST

— The state's exploding deer population is practically devastating strawberry farmers. The deer are eating their developing crops.

Roger and Jean Copeland, who own Jean's Berry Patch in Apex, say deer feasting on the fruit could hurt their crop.

"It's terrible. You come out, and you see where it looks like they've just played all night," Jean Copeland said.

"If you don't do something to stop them and they keep coming back and they nibble the stem and they eventually get the crown, then you're 80, 90, 100 percent gone," Ron Copeland said.

He said he has tried protecting the crop with a wire fence and using ribbon, lights and a radio to scare away the deer, but they keep returning.

"I tell you, I've tried everything under the shining sun," he said.

Growers have lobbied state lawmakers to extend the deer-hunting season, which begins mid-October and ends Jan. 1, in hope that might result in more deer kills.

But some wildlife officers believe shortening the season could actually be more beneficial because the tighter deadline could bring out more hunters.

North Carolina is the fourth-largest strawberry producer in the nation, with nearly 200 growers and about 2,000 acres and nearly $20 million in sales each year.

"We'll have to raise prices as long as we have to keep spending more to keep deer out of our field," Jean Copeland said.

"It's awfully, awfully, awfully embarrassing for families to come out and pick strawberries, and I have to meet them at the road and say, 'I'm sorry, I don't have any.'"