Erratic weather making strawberry picking tricky

strawberries

~ Press release issued by Virginia Farm Bureau Federation

MOSELEY — Spring weather in Virginia can be notoriously fickle, and no one is more aware of that fact than farmers. Despite that knowledge, this spring is turning out to be exceptionally tricky for Virginia strawberry growers.

“We’ve had the good, the bad and the ugly of it all,” said Richard Goode, who runs a U-pick strawberry patch at Chesterfield Berry Farm. “The weather’s been pretty tough this year. It’s been cold, then it’s been hot, and we also had a hailstorm that tore our strawberries to pieces.

“But I can’t really complain about any of it. It’s just typical farming,” he remarked.

Although the late-April hailstorm damaged some of his strawberries, Goode said the crop recovered in time for picking season, which typically begins in early May.

The problem since the start of May — for Goode and other strawberry growers throughout Virginia — has been the arrival of drenching rains.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, localities in Central Virginia, Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia have received 1.57, 2.97 and 5.36 inches of rain, respectively, since May 3.

Although the rainfall figures aren’t excessive, a large portion of the May rainfall happened on Saturdays and Sundays, which are peak business days for U-pick farms.

Mike Cullipher, who operates a U-pick strawberry patch at Cullipher Farm in Virginia Beach, noted he has faced “the same battles” as other farmers who have struggled to draw visitors amid the rainy spell.

“If it’s raining or the forecast calls for rain, most people will just say ‘I’ll go another day,’” said Cullipher, who also serves on the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Specialty Crops Advisory Committee. “They’re not going to take the time and waste a trip if there’s a possibility of rain.”

Working around the lack of foot traffic, Cullipher said his farm has been pre-harvesting strawberries to sell to drive-up customers who would otherwise be picking in the fields.

That diligence has allowed Cullipher Farm to stay on schedule with its harvest despite suffering through a heat wave that produced record-breaking temperatures in pockets of Virginia on May 20 and 21.

Cullipher noted the irregular weather patterns could result in Virginia’s strawberry season being extended by a few weeks.

Prince William County farmer Jay Yankey said his strawberry crop also withstood the elements thanks to irrigation, and business has stayed steady through multiple rounds of trying weather.

“We’re looking pretty good,” Yankey said. “Probably the best crop we’ve ever had.”

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