By Emily Hoard • Staff Writer • 

Early season plays havoc with local farms

Pablo Munoz Farms opened its fresh fruit and vegetable stand earlier than usual this year, as warm weather in early April sped the ripening process.

The stand, located at the intersection of Northeast Lafayette Avenue and Highway 99W, opened April 17 this year. That’s about two weeks earlier than usual, and Munoz’s son, Joel Carvajal, said two weeks is quite significant in the industry. 

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“That’s very early for a lot of berry farmers,” he said, citing them as being particularly affected. “In the really early season, we’re not sure how long the berries will last. It’s the biggest concern in berry farming.”

But Carvajal said early ripening can also give producers in the affected area a head start over competitors. By May, he said, the competition will even out.

Heather Stoven, an OSU Extension Service horticulturist assigned to Yamhill County, agreed that an early season can cut two ways.

“It can be a good thing for growers this year, because they can potentially bring in their harvests and get their crops to consumers a little bit sooner,” Stoven said, “And then it can potentially be a bad thing, because they might have more pests and might have more irrigation issues this year, because of the dry weather. They might need to pay more attention to irrigation and start irrigating sooner.”

Stoven said growth in early spring leaves perennials vulnerable to frost or cold damage as well. She said no late freezes occurred this year, but warmer weather raises the specter of more problematic insects, like brown marmorated stink bugs and spotted wing drosophila.

Barbara Boyer of Gourmet Hay, who manages the McMinnville Farmers Market, said the potential for pest problems means that conventional farmers may need to use more pesticides and herbicides. And she said both conventional and organic farmers were looking at increased irrigation needs.

Boyer said her vegetable crop has been two to three weeks early for the last four years, so she launched her Community Supported Agriculture vegetable delivery system two weeks early this season. And the Farmers Market may follow suit next year.

“It’s climate change, for sure,” she said. “It’s happening. I see the trend.”

Boyer had to use additional irrigation earlier than normal. As a result, she said, “I think water conservation’s going to be something people need to be paying attention to.”

Charles Stephens of the peach-producing Stephens Farms said he usually begins picking around July 10, but will probably begin closer to June 25 this year. He said the season will end early for him as a result.

“They normally are done about a week after Labor Day, so this year they’ll probably be done a week before Labor day,” Stephens said. “The cycle from flower to peach has not changed. It’s just that the start time and the finish time have changed.”

The Walnut City Kiwanis Club, which normally offers fresh berries for early summer delivery, is limiting sales to frozen berries this year. Customers assumed it was another by-product of the early season — that fresh fruit might be gone by then — but project leader Ken Woodard said that’s not the case.

Woodard said the club’s supplier is no longer offering fresh berries and the club couldn’t line up an another supplier in time. He said not as much acreage is being devoted to berries these days, so it’s harder to secure a steady supply.

“A lot of the land that used to be berry fields and bean fields is all nursery crops now,” he said. “The farming that used to be here is a thing of the past.”

Woodard said the club depends on berry sales to raise money for scholarships and other worthy causes in the community. And without a supply of fresh berries this year, revenue will be down significantly.

“The intake is going to be a lot less,” he said. “In the past, we made twice as much on the fresh berries as we did on the frozen berries.”

Buying Berries

The Walnut City Kiwanis Club lost its fresh berry supplier this year, but is still offering frozen berries.

Marionberries are available in 9-pound lots and strawberries and blueberries in both 9- and 30-pound lots. The smaller lots run $30 and the larger lots $80.

To place an order, visit www.wckiwanis.com/Products.html.


Comments

Don Dix

Berries ripening early is not new to this area. Back in the 50s, berries ripened in May for the same reasons as this year. Berry pickers (those in school) had a couple of lean years because most of the berry crops were finished before school was out for summer. Additionally, there seemed to be 'strawberry fields forever', not so much today.

I suppose one could make the connection to climate change (like every other weather phenomenon is these days), but based on actual experience and observation, the climate simply changed back ..... again (as it has since the inception of Earth).

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