Depending on crop, growers report a good or bad season

08/06/2013 10:55:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

He says things don’t appear to be as bad as he initially thought and says he expects the upcoming season to be okay.

Strawberry profits weighed down

The 2012-13 season was worse than the previous one for Wish Farms in Plant City, Fla.

Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer, says some strawberry growers experienced a decent season. But many saw a less-than-profitable year, due partly to labor shortages that spilled over into Plant City spring vegetables.

“There were a lot of challenges,” he says. “It wasn’t an across-the-board winner for growers.”

Growing season weather was more favorable than in 2011-12, which brought extreme winter heat, Wishnatzki says.

This year, growers had to run overnight irrigation to protect their berries from freezing temperatures, but it wasn’t anything they couldn’t handle, he says.

An early May hailstorm destroyed 40 percent of Wish Farms’ bell pepper crop, so what could have become a strong season turned into an mediocre season, Wishnatzki says. 

Some heavy rains and wind in early March harmed first plantings of Wish Farms’ pickling cucumbers for the fresh market.

“All in all, it wasn’t such a great growing season on the vegetables side either,” Wishnatzki says.

Blueberry growers avoid challenges

Florida blueberry growers didn’t experience any major headaches.

Bill Braswell, president of the Bartow-based Florida Blueberry Growers Association, characterized the season as an odd one but one that was financially successful for growers.

 Braswell, owner of the Auburndale, Fla.-based Polkdale Farms and Juliana Plantation and farm manager of Bartow-based Clear Springs Packing LLC, says flowering and fruit set arrived early after growers experienced very warm January and February growing conditions.

The cold temperature that struck in March brought more chill hours than December and January combined, he says.

On March 28, freezing temperatures forced growers to run irrigation for frost protection, which Braswell called insane for that early in the spring.

The deal saw minimal bird pressure, and the spotted wing drosophila was in around but not a major threat, Braswell says.

He says he’s not sure why Florida growers were spared when the pest severely damaged Georgia blueberries the previous year.

Most of the state’s blueberry volume peaked about the second week of April, a surprise as growers had been predicting an earlier-than-normal crop. Instead, the crop’s slow ripening brought fruit on all at once and kept production to its typical schedule, Braswell says.

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