Jul 2, 2012
Tennessee growers do well with strawberries this year

Mike and Kathy Bradley, owners of Bradley Kountry Acres in Cottontown, Tenn., just north of Nashville and not far from Bowling Green, Ky., said being located between two large population areas gives them good traffic.

The Bradleys have 6 acres of Sweet Charlie, Chandler, Darselect and Earliglow strawberries in plasticulture, raised-bed fields.

“We saw our first bloom in strawberries March 1,” Cathy Bradley said. “We started picking on Good Friday, and we were still going into May. Typically, we’d maybe start picking around April 20 on a good year.”

They also grow 2 acres of blackberries and 300 peach trees, which were heavily damaged by spray drift, and pumpkins as well as other vegetables and flowers. Like strawberries, the crop is split between u-pick and fresh sales at their farm market. Each spring they hold an open house to kick off the strawberry season with door prizes and games.

The Bradleys suffered through floods in 2010 that washed much of the area’s soil away. Last year, they lost their crop to spray drift from a neighboring farm.

While fruit growers in many parts of the country faced devastating losses this spring, strawberry growers in Tennessee had a great season. The early onset of warm weather ripened the berries earlier than usual, said Tammy Algood, marketing specialist for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

“It was a fantastic strawberry year for us,” Algood said.

The Tennessee strawberry crop is significantly improved from 2010, when massive flooding followed by drought caused a weaker crop for 2011, Algood said. This year has been terrific, but growers had to remind consumers that the crop arrived early.

“The strawberry crop looked great,” Bradley said. “It was three to four weeks early, ripening in April, and an abundant amount with good size to the berries. We still saw green fruit and flowers in the fields into May. We had almost more than we could pick.”

For the Bradleys and other Tennessee farmers, this season means recovery, Algood said. They will have the opportunity to make up for a couple of years of disappointing revenues.

There was a frost the second week of April, but strawberries fared better than other fruit crops. Growers are generally set up to irrigate, cover or do both to protect the crop.

“We had two days we had to cover up the strawberries,” Bradley said. “Our blackberries might be OK and I’m sure we had some loss in the peaches, but they are still recovering from last year.”

By Derrek Sigler, Assistant Editor

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