May’s frost, June’s drought damages strawberry production at local farm

GALESBURG, Mich. — When Ben Martin and his team started to pick strawberries Monday morning from his farm it became a more tedious task than expected. So they quickly stopped and “threw in the towel.”

“Everybody’s looking at me like ‘Hey, it’s not even worth being out here,’" said Martin about the conversation they had on the field. "It doesn’t add up to pick the size fruits that we’re getting to fill the quarts.”

Before strawberry season began in June, Martin predicted they'd gather enough strawberries to fill 10,000 quarts. However by the end of the month, they only had enough for 400. He said they came in too small in size and it all began with the frost in May.

“When we get down to lower than 30 degrees it just kills the flower blossoms,” said Martin who owns and operates Soil Friends Farm on 33rd Street. “And what most people don’t know is that the flower blossoms are what turns into the fruit. So if we ruin our blossoms we have no chance at a fruit after that.”

The consecutive weeks of sunshine and 90-degree weather didn’t help either, he said. There was little rainfall and strawberries need 2-3 inches of rain a week in order to fully blossom.

“It doesn’t help knowing it keeps it dry,” said Martin about the near-drought conditions. “We have irrigation here on the farm. But there’s nothing that can make up for a rainfall event.”

Martin said the lack of strawberry production has hit their pockets too by tens of thousands of dollars. Last year’s strawberry season was a blockbuster. So much so that they expanded from one acre to two this year to try and double the success. But they barely had enough to meet demand.

“We have an annual event which was held the 17th of June [to] get a lot of people out to the farm for our ice cream social,” said Martin. “We hardly had any strawberries to sell. But luckily we saved some to top off the ice cream.”

With this strawberry season in the books, Martin said they’re now focused on the other foods on the 10-acre farm. The onions, radishes, and zucchinis are coming in well and the tomatoes are growing like wildfire.

“If we can just prioritize on whats really important," said Martin. "If the cream of the crop’s no longer here we’ve got to move on to greener pastures.”

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