US (NC): Strawberry season arrives early and in abundance

Strawberry season in North Carolina has arrived earlier than usual this year, and COVID-19 has farmers taking precautions to ensure that consumers have safe access to what promises to be a bountiful harvest.

NC State Extension Specialist Mark Hoffmann says the strawberry harvest will peak in about two weeks and continue into late May or early June, depending on the weather. Right now, he expects the state’s farmers to pick more strawberries this year than they usually do, thanks to a warm winter.

Some farmers – especially those with agritourism operations – are concerned about their 2020 income, Hoffman says. In North Carolina, there are 500 to 700 strawberry operations, and while some sell their produce to wholesale and retail operations, most sell directly to consumers through farmer’s markets, farm stands and u-pick operations.

Practices Change to Account for COVID-19
According to a statement last week to the Southeast Farm Press, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper indicated that the state’s strawberry stands and pick-your-own strawberry farms could continue to operate and serve customers as long as they have social distancing guidelines in place.

That’s good news for farmers who’ve invested significant labor and money into producing an excellent crop, says Hoffmann, an assistant professor with NC State University’s Department of Horticultural Science.

“It’s a really good season this year, so far,” he says. “Farm-based COVID-19 implementations will cost more money. At this point, it’s unclear how much more and how that will translate into losses for farmers.

“But if it stays like this right now, and there are no more restrictions than the current stay-at-home order, then our growers are going to be OK.”

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