RAYMOND — Years ago, Sarah and Dan Brouwer realized it wasn’t just the strawberries that brought pickers to their farm near Raymond every June.
It was the experience itself.
Not this year. There will be no U-Pick for strawberries at Brouwer Berries this year.
“We have been experiencing catastrophic crop loss,” Sarah Brouwer posted on the farm’s Facebook page on June 11.
While there will be no U-Pick at the farm, Sarah and Dan Brouwer have pre-picked strawberries available for sale at the farm. They have about one acre of berries that escaped harm from the weather. They are being harvested by the Brouwers for sale. Information on the availability of the pre-picked strawberries is updated on the farm’s Facebook page.
This year’s unusual weather is to blame. An early warm-up in March led the plants to break dormancy. The Brouwers removed the straw covering sooner than normal.
Cold weather in April froze the plant canopy. It was followed by a May 28 frost that nipped the blossoms.
The strawberries that persevered through the cold “have now been hammered with high heat,” according to Brouwer.
Other specialty crop producers have been hurt as well. Randy Jones of Jonesey Berries, Grove City, said the unusual weather has stressed the berries at his family's farm, but they are offering U-Pick opportunities. The next is Wednesday.
“This year we have berries. (We’re) not sure how long our season is going to be,” he said.
The family has been watering the berries every day for about three weeks.
Jonesey Berries opened for picking on Friday and Saturday and again on Monday, will take Tuesday off. The berries seem smaller at each picking, he said.
Jones said the season will likely be a shorter one. “It’s good right now but not the season we had hoped for,” he said.
The hot weather is impacting strawberry producers across the entire state, according to Annie Klodd, Extension Educator — Fruit and Vegetable Production, University of Minnesota Extension.
She described the dry and hot weather as a serious blow to producers. She said strawberries tend to be smaller when the weather is as hot as it's been.
Extended periods of temperatures over 90 degrees cause the berries to prematurely turn red before they have reached their full size. If the plants are water-stressed, then the fruit will be smaller, according to Klodd.
If the plants were still producing blossoms at the time of an extremely hot spell, they may produce fewer flowers than normal.
“We're seeing fruit crops struggling that are usually pretty resilient,” Klodd told the Tribune in an email.
At Brouwer Berries, the family is toiling in the field every day, all day to preserve the plants for next year and tend to the sheep, according to Sarah Brouwer.
The Brouwer family has been chosen as the Farm Family of the Year in Kandiyohi County this year, and will be honored at FarmFest. It feels hollow, Sarah Brouwer told the Tribune, since the family is unable to welcome the community to the farm as in past years.