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Cool, wet spring delays Washington strawberry crop

Published on May 28, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on May 28, 2011 5:58AM


The Bellingham Herald via Associated Press

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) -- As this cold, wet spring continues to deprive Whatcom County residents of much-desired sunlight, local farmers are becoming increasingly concerned about what this is doing to the crops.

At this point Whatcom County berry farmers could get a decent -- albeit smaller -- harvest if the skies clear and temperatures rise in the coming weeks.

"This is definitely a year for the record books," said Mike Boxx, who operates Boxx Berry Farms on Northwest Drive. He said they would normally be harvesting strawberries these days, but instead the berries are still green. "We believe we'll start getting a few ripe strawberries between June 15 and June 20."

Already feeling the impacts of a cold, damp spring are dairy and seed potatoes farmers. Many Whatcom dairy farmers haven't been able to get in a first cut of grass or silage, typically done in April. That may force farmers to pay for feed, which can be triple the cost of cutting grass.

Since the ground has been so muddy, seed potato farmers haven't been able to use their equipment to plant, making it possible some varieties will be skipped this year.

For dairy farmers, not being able to cut the grass or even plant corn has become a frustrating situation. Even with a couple of dry days last week, farmers weren't able to get a complete cut, leaving some areas uncut because they couldn't get the equipment through the mud.

Edaleen Dairy, which has a herd of 2,500 milking cows north of Lynden, was just finishing up its first cut, about a month behind schedule, said Scott Engels, chief financial officer for the company. Even with the cut, it is less than normal because of the cold weather.

So far the company hasn't had to resort to buying feed on the market; the commodity has surged in price in recent months.

"We're just hoping for some warm, dry weather soon," Engels said.

So are berry farmers. The cold winter and spring has led to some damage to the berries, said Randy Kraght, co-owner of Barbie's Berries. He is also a field staff member in the agronomy division of Elenbaas Company.

From what he's seen, there's been more damage in Skagit County, which was more impacted than Whatcom farms by a particularly cold snap in February.

"It's actually amazing how some of the berry plants have held up so well, given what's happened with this weather," Kraght said. "I'm actually optimistic about coming out of this wet spring if we can start getting some sun. We're getting down to crunch time, though."

Sunny weather is important in the coming weeks because this is typically the time bee pollination peaks. Kraght said last week had a few good pollination days.

If temperatures do rise soon, Kraght expects the berry harvests still will be spaced apart by type, but they'll all be later than usual. The first major harvest locally is strawberries, followed by raspberries and then blueberries. At this point, he believes the blueberry harvest is the most promising of the three.

As for the weather, it doesn't appear to be changing just yet. According to the National Weather Service, Whatcom County is expected to have a chance of showers six of the next seven days, with the highest temperature at 61 degrees on Sunday.


Information from: The Bellingham Herald, http://www.bellinghamherald.com

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.


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