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Small Strawberry Crop Posts A Healthy Return
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi strawberry acres are few, but even an average yield provides the state with at least a $250,000 crop.
Strawberry season closed near the end of May in the southern part of the state, but cool temperatures kept the season open into early June farther north. South Mississippi has most of the state's 25 to 35 acres of strawberry farms.
Dr. Freddie Rasberry, extension fruit and nut specialist at Mississippi State University, said the crop is valued annually in excess of $250,000. Yields typically range from 5 to 7 tons per acre. At $1 a pound, a 1-acre field could bring in more than $10,000 a year.
"Strawberries are a good crop for us on a small scale," Rasberry said. "Many growers have 1 to 2 acres and grow strawberries as a secondary income."
Duane and Elaine Maust own the 8.5-acre Sunshine Berry Farm in Meridian. Their season started April 21. Although it normally ends around May 25, they expect cool weather to keep the season open until the first week of June.
"The winter was almost ideal, and the cool nights we've had have kept the strawberries coming," Duane Maust said.
A 6-inch rain in late April caused a 1-ton per acre berry loss, but the crop has rebounded well from that, Maust said.
If the weather holds and the plants continue to produce as they are now, Maust expects 5 to 7 tons per acre. In 1997, his farm yield 6 tons which is about his average.
A pre-picked, 5-quart, 7.5-pound basket at Sunshine Berry Farm costs $8.50, and $5.25 if the customer picks the berries.
David Veal owns the 3-acre Rainbow Berry Farm in Gulfport. His plants, as well as those on other strawberry farms along the Gulf Coast, were smaller this year than they should have been because of disease problems caused by the cloudy, wet winter.
"The small-size plants influence the yield, so we're not going to have the yield off these plants that we might normally have," he said.
Spring growing weather was good, but plants did not reach normal size until the end of May. The strawberry season in South Mississippi was from March 24 to May 25.
Veal expects his total yield this year to be less than 6 tons per acre. A good yield for his farm is 7 tons or more. His price per pound for the berries was 93 cents all season.
"It's not that we haven't had the customers, but we haven't had the berries," Veal said. "The plants are not capable of producing the kind of berries that we need."