Make us your home page

First the cold, now the rain pose problems for Plant City strawberry farmers

Excess moisture is causing angular leaf spot, which is bacteria on the leaves of the strawberries.

Bay News 9

Excess moisture is causing angular leaf spot, which is bacteria on the leaves of the strawberries.

TAMPA — First it was the cold. Now it's the rain, the humidity and all that fog.

Farmers who struggled to save plants from this winter's bitter cold are contending with an unusual amount of rain that is encrusting some plants with fungus and swelling berries until they crack.

"The plants just don't like being wet," said Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.

About 90 percent of commercial strawberry farms in Florida are within 20 miles of Plant City, and some amount of the fungus, known as angular leaf spot, has been seen at about half of the farms. That's about 10,000 acres of crops seeing minor to more severe damage from the rain.

"It's not a death sentence to the industry," Campbell said. But some farms could use a break from the rain right now.

Heavy rain is more difficult to deal with than a freeze, but farmers are still faring better than last year, which saw record-breaking cold in January. The pathogens for fungus is always there, but rain lets it fester.

A lot of rain in a short time sets up fruit for disease, said Lisa Lochridge, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. Strawberries are more delicate than most fruits or vegetables.

The fungus grows on leaves and produces spots on the fruit, said George Casey, who owns a Hernando County blueberry and strawberry farm.

"They are not a No. 1 quality berry, they are No. 2," Casey said.

That makes a big difference in a farmer's bottom line, since No. 1 quality berries sell for $2.50 a pound while No. 2 berries go for $1 a pound.

No. 2 berries are mashed into jellies and jams.

Rain will continue to present obstacles for strawberry growers on Thursday morning before being pushed out of the region by a cold front in the afternoon.

Temperatures should be mild through the weekend, with highs in the 50s and lows in the 40s.

"We'll be lucky to get out of the 50s on Saturday," said Bay News 9 senior meteorologist Mike Clay.

Despite a few heavy rains in January, Lochridge has no reports of major problems in the state, and Central and South Florida still need more rain to make up for a deficit.

Too much rain in a short time is tougher on strawberries than on citrus fruits with a thicker peel to protect them, said Greg Gude, general manager of Kumquat Growers Inc. in Pasco County.

Still, the farm's 42 acres had a small percentage of the kumquats split or grow fungus.

Farmers sprayed crops with water or fungicide this season to protect their crops, but heavy rains can wash it away.

Fungus showed up two weeks ago on Casey's farm just southwest of Brooksville. Rain wiped out about 5 percent of his crops.

"It's been a hard winter and hard season," Casey said. "But that's farming."

Berries are picked every three days or so from the 210 acres at Fancy Farms in Plant City. Rain has cracked "a substantial amount" of strawberries and left some fruit with rotten spots similar to those on a banana or a bad apple, said owner Carl Grooms.

Grooms said there's no way to make up for less productive season after all the weather trouble this season. And he can't remember the last good season. There are always two or three obstacles, he said.

"There's no way to make up for a loss," Grooms said. "It's sort of like sex. If you didn't get it last night, you ain't going to make it up no time."

First the cold, now the rain pose problems for Plant City strawberry farmers 02/09/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 11:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Grocery chain Aldi hosting hiring event in Brandon Aug. 24


    BRANDON — German grocery chain Aldi is holding a hiring event for its Brandon store Aug. 24. It is looking to fill store associate, shift manager and manager trainee positions.

  2. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik backs film company pursuing global blockbusters


    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's latest investment might be coming to a theater near you.

    Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner, invested in a new movie company looking to appeal to a global audience. | [Times file photo]
  3. Trigaux: Look to new Inc. 5000 rankings for Tampa Bay's future heavyweights


    There's a whole lotta fast-growing private companies here in Tampa Bay. Odds are good you have not heard of most of them.


    Kyle Taylor, CEO and founder of The Penny Hoarder, fills a glass for his employees this past Wednesday as the young St. Petersburg personal advice business celebrates its landing at No. 25 on the 2017 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in the country. Taylor, still in his 20s, wins kudos from executive editor Alexis Grant for keeping the firm's culture innovative. The business ranked No. 32 last year. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  4. Ford's Garage opens new Westchase spot


    Ford's Garage opened its sixth Florida location in Westchase this week.

    hillsevbiz081817: Ford's Garage opened its sixth Florida location in Westchase this week. Photo courtesy of Ford's Garage
  5. Carls Patio celebrates great outdoor furnishings in Carrollwood


    CARROLLWOOD — While many northerners are shoveling snow, Floridians are lounging poolside in the middle of winter.

    hillsevbiz081817: After selling outdoor and patio furniture in locations in South Florida since 1993, Carls Patio has opened its first store to open in the Tampa Bay area and there are plans for more. Photo courtesy of Carls Patio.