Make us your home page

As prices fall, strawberry farmers plow crops under

For weeks, it was difficult to find strawberries at grocery stores. Now, the shelves brim with cartons of berries and the prices are especially low.

But while shoppers are scoring on sales, the story out in the fields isn't so happy. Many farmers are plowing bushes filled with ripening strawberries under because they're not making enough to cover their costs.

"They got down to $5.90 (per flat), and we can't pick after that," said Buddy Sewell, of Sewell and Sewell farms in Valrico. He started plowing 50 acres of plants under last week.

The value of strawberries usually drops in March, as northern states and California join the market. Early in the season, farmers can often get about $20 per flat. That price falls until it hits about $5 to $6, when farmers stop picking.

But this year they're leaving a huge amount of berries to rot.

An abnormally cold winter and a series of freezing nights stalled the plants' production. Once temperatures rose, they all started producing berries at once — and in unusually large quantities.

"The cold weather shocks the plants," said Gary Wishnatzki, head of Wishnatzki Farms in Plant City. "It induced more blooms."

This spring, Florida farmers aren't only competing with Northern states but with one another. And the principle of supply and demand isn't on their side. Prices were high during the freezes, but they weren't able to pick then.

"It don't matter how good the price is if you don't have any berries," said Billy Simmons of Simmons Farm.

Now they have plenty of berries ready to be picked, but a flat is worth only about $5.90 to $6.90, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics released Wednesday.

Wishnatzki said many growers don't find it profitable to pick for prices below $6.90, unless they can process or sell the berries themselves. His company has a processing plant that slices berries for freezing and creates strawberry puree for drinks, so the farmers growing for him are still picking.

Decades ago, during this time of year, farmers would turn their fields over for U-pick to finish up the season. But liability and a preference for planting a spring crop has caused that tradition to dwindle to just a few local farms.

Now, farmers just let the berries rot on the plants. It might seem wasteful, but they explain that if they pick for such low profits, they'll lose money. They can't afford to do that — especially after such a bad season.

"We're really just hoping to break even this year," Wishnatzki said. "We will consider a break-even this season to be successful."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.

As prices fall, strawberry farmers plow crops under 03/24/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 25, 2010 9:42am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: Closing Iron Yard coding school hits area tech hard but leaders talk of options


    The coming shutdown this fall of the Iron Yard software coding school in downtown St. Petersburg — announced this month as part of a national closing of all 15 Iron Yard locations — remains a shocking event to a Tampa Bay technology community that dreams big of becoming a major player in the Southeast if not …

    In better days last fall, friends and family of graduates at The Iron Yard, based in the Station House in downtown St. Petersburg, applaud during "Demo Day" when grads of the coding school show off their skills. Despite the local success and strong job placement by the coding school, The Iron Yard is closing all of its 15 locations across the country this summer. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  2. U.S. economy gathers steam in second quarter


    WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy revved up this spring after a weak start to the year, fueled by strong consumer spending. But the growth spurt still fell short of the optimistic goals President Donald Trump hopes to achieve through tax cuts and regulatory relief.

    A government report released Friday showed economic output picked up in the second quarter. 
[Associated Press file photo]
  3. Founder of Tampa home sharing platform questions Airbnb, NAACP partnership


    TAMPA — A Tampa rival to Airbnb, which was launched because of discrimination complaints on the dominant home sharing platform, has concerns about the new partnership between Airbnb and NAACP announced this week.

    Rohan Gilkes poses for a portrait at his home and business headquarters in Tampa. 

Innclusive, a Tampa-based start-up, is a home-sharing platform that focuses on providing a positive traveling experience for minorities. [CHARLIE KAIJO | Times]
  4. Appointments at Port Tampa Bay and Tampa General Medical Group highlight this week's Tampa Bay business Movers & Shakers



    Port Tampa Bay announced that Jamal Sowell has been named director of special projects. Sowell, a former member of the U.S.Marine Corps, will support internal, external and special projects, assist the executive team with management oversight and serve as a liaison on a variety of port …

    Port Tampa Bay announced this week that Jamal Sowell has been named director of special projects. [Handout photo]
  5. Drones restrictions coming at Tampa Bay area airports


    Starting Sept. 1, Tampa International Airport officials will be enforcing new height restrictions for drones and other unmanned aircraft systems, according to a press release.

    In this February 2017 file photo, a drone flies in Hanworth Park in west London. Starting Sept. 1, Tampa International Airport officials will be enforcing new height restrictions for drones and other unmanned aircraft systems,
[John Stillwell/PA via AP, File]