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Friday, July 11, 2008

New variety of strawberry helps season get going

Friday, June 06, 2008
By DEAN BAKER, Columbian staff writer

A variety of strawberry relatively new to this area has ripened quickly despite a relentlessly wet, gloomy spring, allowing the fresh-strawberry season to begin Thursday in Southwest Washington.

Despite the appearance of berries of the Honeoye variety, the season is beginning at least two weeks later than last year. Harvest won’t move into full swing before late next week at the earliest, growers said.

“We just started picking today,” said George Hoffman, who has 65 acres of berries in Clark County.

“Jerry Dobbins started fresh-market berries, too,” he said, pointing to the biggest grower in Cowlitz County. “We need some more sun, though. The berries are a little on the sour side. They need a little more sugar,” said Hoffman.

Sun brings sweetness.

At Felida Red Barn, 1915 N.W 119th St., store manager Amy Yost was selling Hoffman’s berries Thursday for $2.50 a pint, $11.50 a half flat and $19.95 a flat. At Dobbins Farm in Woodland, fresh-market picking also began, Dobbins said. Individual orders were being taken at the farm, he said.

Both Hoffman and Dobbins were able start picking Thursday because they’d planted Honeoye berries, an early variety. The Honeoyes are early but also run out quickly, said Dobbins, who grows 120 acres of strawberries at Woodland.

Most of the berries in Southwest Washington are Tillamooks or Totems.

“The main Totem fields are still looking to begin picking somewhere around June 15,” said crop consultant Tom Peerbolt, who works with Washington and Oregon growers. “Tillamook are running even later.” He said the yield didn’t appear to be abundant, “even though the plants look great.”

“We’re picking fresh-market today,” said Dobbins. “But the cannery pick won’t start until end of the next week or the first of the week after that. This cold weather has really taken its toll. I mean it is making the fruit late. The fruit looks good. My prediction is probably for a shorter-than- normal crop this year because of the weather conditions.”

In east Vancouver, Joe Beaudoin said he expects his harvest to get a slow start late this week at Joe’s Place Farms.

“I think we might get a little warm weather on the weekend, and the first real picking will probably be in the middle of next week,” he said. “We wanted to serve fresh crepes on Saturday, but I don’t think we’ll have any berries.

“The fields look gorgeous,” he said. “They are lush with berries. And they could ripen quickly if the sun comes out. Last year, when they came, they came. And it was hard to keep up.”

The growers said they don’t expect any shortage of labor this year because kids will be out of school and able to help in the late harvest, many Mexican workers are looking for work, and other laborers also are looking for employment in the down economy.

“Last year, we started picking the last three days in May,” Beaudoin said. “And we were almost done with strawberries by the time school got out. This year, we’ll start about the time school gets out.”

Dobbins agreed enough pickers will be on hand. “We did our homework and lined up workers early,” he said. “I think the labor force is going to be OK.”

Dean Baker writes about agriculture. Reach him at 360-735-4511 or e-mail
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