Columbus County is home to North Carolina’s Strawberry Festival, and while the strawberries are as sweet as ever, sales have gone sour. “They once had customers come in and buy 2 to 3 flats of strawberries, which equals out to be about 6 to 12 quarts of strawberries a week, and now they’re only buying 2 to 3 quarts per month,” said Howard Wallace of Columbus County Cooperative Extension.
The county is home to 12 strawberry farms, bringing in about $30,000 per acre each year. The total impact on the local economy is more than $350,000. At Edmund Farms in Chadbourn sales are down about 33 percent or $10,000 from last year.
“Given the economy, the way it is, our biggest downfall this year has been the weather in general,” said Joe Edmund of Edmund Farms.
Farmers say the ideal season for harvesting strawberries is mild temperatures, with a little bit of rain. But this year more extreme temperatures, and greater than expected rain fall, meant many of the berries rotted on the vine, which means fewer weeks of harvesting and less money for the farmers. “It’s such an expensive crop to grow and are such a demanding crop, the cost for strawberries is kind of limiting,” added Wallace.
Wallace said farmers have to charge at least 3 dollars per quart to make a profit, but local farmers are slashing prices to try and stay competitive. “Well we hope the economy turns around and everyone can buy their strawberries. We’re going to hang in there,” said Edmund.
Farmers usually have about 8 weeks to harvest their strawberry crop, the first 4 help cover their costs leaving 4 weeks of profit. But this year the rain and extreme weather swings has cut the harvest down to six weeks. Edmund said next week could be the last harvest week of the season.