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Difficult conditions for strawberries in Minnesota and Wisconsin leads to short season

Two farms in southeast Minnesota and another across the border in Wisconsin had poor strawberry crops this season.

Wold Srawberries you-pick.jpg
Bogdana Glynstea picks strawberries as her 4-year-old son, Maxim, takes a bite of one at Wold Strawberries in Mable, Minnesota, on June 16, 2022, the opening day of you-pick business at the farm.
Noah Fish / Agweek
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Poor weather led to poor crops for strawberry farmers in southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin this summer.

Ron Dickie has rented land to grow strawberries at Sekapp Orchard in Rochester, Minnesota, for the last seven seasons. He’s been in the berry business for over 50 years, he said.

Dickie posted a Facebook status update on June 28 : "Greetings from Ron at Sekapp Orchard strawberry farm. The weather hasn’t been cooperating. We are closing for the season. Hopefully we get a better crop next year.”

Once he noticed the poor crop this year, Dickie said he began communicating with Brian Smith, professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls, who specializes in fruit and vegetable production.

Smith advised Dickie to take some of his plants, soil samples and tissue samples and send them to a lab to have them tested.

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“I think that's what I'm going to do,” said Dickey on June 29.

Dickie said that strawberry buds form in the fall and then bloom the following spring, producing one large harvest, typically in June. Smith told Dickie that with drought conditions last year and a couple hard freezes this year, the crop is going to be poor for strawberries.

“It shocked the plants, and so we got stress on them,” said Dickie.

Last year’s strawberry crop was also a wash, Dickie said.

“In over 50 years, I’ve never missed years back to back,” he said. “It was just as bad last year, as far as the yield goes.”

He said with an average crop of strawberries, pickers should be able to go about 10-feet and fill a six-quart container.

“That was not the case this year,” he said.

Dickie said he’s out about $40,000 because of the lost strawberry crop this season. He said the cost of about an acre of strawberry plants is around $2,000.

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“I can't take that hit,” said Dickie, who sold his farm eight years ago but has yet to tap into the savings from that. “But if this keeps on, I will have to.”

Tonya and Dean Sanner, with their four children, operate Firefly Berries in northeast Rochester. Their last strong crop for strawberries was in 2020, when the family decided not to open for you-pick season because of the pandemic.

This year, Firefly Berries called its you-pick season off earlier than they would’ve liked to, on June 28.

“Our 2022 strawberry season was very short with minimal berries,” said Tonya Sanner.

She said the farm will have concord grapes available beginning in mid to late September.

Jolivette's Berry Farm in West Salem, Wisconsin, also had a tough year for strawberries. Owner John Jolivette described the strawberry crop on their farm this season as “poor.”

“We had 95-degree weather, for one thing, and six inches of rain,” said Jolivette on June 29. “And a little bit of hail.”

Jolivette, who said they have about eight acres of strawberries on the farm, said that last year was just as challenging as this year was for strawberry growth.

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at nfish@agweek.com

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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