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Strawberries conclude an early harvest season

MSU Extension Service

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Growing conditions first helped but then hurt Mississippi strawberries this year as the 2017 harvest season comes to an early conclusion.

Eric Stafne, fruit crops specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said a mild fall and winter helped the crop mature a little earlier than normal.

"The cold weather events of March 15 and 16 may have caused some problems for a few growers, but overall things look pretty good," Stafne said. "Strawberries always are a labor-intensive crop. Recent rains have led to anthracnose and botrytis fungal diseases."

Patricia Porter, a participant in the Mississippi State University Strawberry Field Day, examines strawberries growing at the MSU Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station on April 4, 2017. Porter, a vegetable and poultry grower, said she is considering the addition of strawberries to her farm in Lexington, Mississippi. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Kevin Hudson)Patricia Porter, a participant in the Mississippi State University Strawberry Field Day, examines strawberries growing at the MSU Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station on April 4, 2017. Porter, a vegetable and poultry grower, said she is considering the addition of strawberries to her farm in Lexington, Mississippi. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Kevin Hudson)

MSU horticulture researcher Bill Evans is based at the Truck Crops Branch of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in Crystal Springs. He said researchers are testing some cultivars that have not been grown much in the state yet.

“Recent heavy rains in several parts of the state have reduced quality and begun to end the harvest in some areas,” Evans said. “The good news is that warm days and cool nights have given us nice, sweet fruit.”

Mississippi has relatively few commercial strawberry growers.

“We have a few growers starting some small patches of 500-1,000 plants for local sales,” he said. “One grower had quite a successful first attempt this spring in the state farmers market in Jackson, but the recent rains have all but ended the harvest on that farm.”

If a few other growers find success, the number of berries available in local markets will increase.

“There is interest from many growers, but the crop is very capital- and labor-intensive, often requiring more than $10,000 to establish and maintain an acre before picking the first berry,” Evans said.

Mel Ellis grows 14,000 to 15,000 strawberry plants on the Mayhew Tomato Farm in Lowndes County. He explained that he is not looking to expand or reduce his crop from year to year.

“We’ve figured out the best amount for our market area,” Ellis said. “Prices don’t change much either.”

Ellis said his strawberries matured early. Diseases have not been a problem yet. As temperatures rise, he said diseases could become an issue for his final berries of the season.

“We’ve been picking for 30 days (as of April 12), so we only have about 10 days left,” he said. “It’s time to get ready for the next season, including tomatoes, squash and watermelons.”

News story contacts: Dr. Eric Stafne, 601-403-8939, and Dr. Bill Evans, 601-892-3731

Released: April 13, 2017
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