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Georgia Farmers Have Bumper Crop of Berries
At the McDonough Market Garden, one of about 40 pick-your-own strawberry patches in Georgia, the business has been brisk and the berries plentiful.

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Photo: Faith Peppers

Good strawberry-growing weather brought a big crop to Georgia fields this spring.
Rain at the right time brought healthy plants and big berries. Dry, sunny weather brought pickers.

"This is the best year we've ever had," said William Oelgeschlager, who runs the four-year-old roadside market with his son-in-law William Mailand on Georgia Highway 20 between McDonough and Hampton, Ga.

It's Berry Picking Time

The berries were ready for picking in mid-April. They expect the season to last through the first week of June.

On a midweek afternoon in late April, the bountiful berries and beautiful weather brought families, groups of teenagers and neighbors out to pick berries and eat homemade ice cream, also for sale at the market.

The plants were so loaded with fruit it took only 10 minutes to fill a gallon bucket.

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Photo: Faith Peppers

Georgia's strawberry market is dependent on pick-your-own farms.
"Since the weather is better, we've had more business," Oelgeschlager said.

He isn't the only grower benefitting.

Good Season Statewide

"We have a wonderful strawberry crop this year," said Gerard Krewer, an Extension Service horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"In south Georgia, the crop is at its peak now. But there are still plenty of berries," Krewer said. "In the mountains, the crop is just coming in."

This spring's cool, dry weather is perfect for growing strawberries.

"The cool allows more flowers to form, which results in a larger crop," Krewer said. "Strawberries are quite odd in that most of the flower buds in the Georgia crop are formed in the spring of the year that production occurs. Up north, most of the flower buds are formed the previous fall and winter."

Most Georgia growers use plasticulture, planting the plants in a mounded row of soil covered with plastic. This method keeps moisture in the soil, soil off the berries and weeds out of the plants.

"We bring some flower buds in from Canada on the mother plants. Other flower buds are formed on side branches that develop in Georgia," Krewer explained. "If the weather is cool enough, they will form flowers that will come out and continue to form more and more berries. The cool, dry spring we had is ideal."

Pick-Your-Own Popular

Almost all of the Georgia strawberry crop is grown on pick-your-own farms and the number of Georgia acres devoted to pick-your-own strawberry farms has increased dramatically since 1985.

In 1998, Georgia strawberry farms generated $1.5 million in sales, with an economic impact of $4.5 million.

"Pick-your-own is very dependent on a constant flow of customers," Krewer said. "They are also dependent on the weather."

If the McDonough Market Garden is any indication, Georgia farmers have plenty of both this year.

To find a fresh produce market or pick-your-own strawberry patch near you, visit the Georgia Farm Bureau Web site at http://www.gfb.org and look under Farm Markets. The site provides a map, directions, telephone numbers and a list of crops the market offers.

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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