Strawberry Grower Rolls Dice, Opts Not to Apply Water During Christmas Freeze

Dustin Grooms stands in a strawberry field in this file photo.

By Clint Thompson

One Florida strawberry producer rolled the dice and did not apply water during the Christmas freeze event. Dustin Grooms should soon have an idea soon whether that gamble paid off.

“We sat there and watched the thermometer, and the wind was blowing. We’re feeling leaves, looking at blooms, doing all of this stuff all night long, waiting for the wind to settle down, and it never settled down,” Grooms said. “We opted not to run (water) both nights. People that did run definitely made ice. They definitely protected the blooms that they had and all of that good stuff.

“We rolled the dice, and going around on the open blooms we got lucky, I definitely say, because it’s hard to find dead blooms. There’s a handful around. There are definitely some tender ones deep down in the crown of the plant. We won’t know the full extent for another couple of weeks.”

Grooms, a grower with Fancy Farms in Plant City, Florida, opted not to apply water during both nights of sub-freezing temperatures, mostly for fears of exacerbating Neopestalotiopsis Fruit Rot disease. He had already observed the disease in some of his strawberries and feared the impact of additional irrigation applications.

“We felt like it was going to make that worse rather than saving a few blooms,” Grooms said. “We felt like it was going to go bad anyhow, let’s just try to mitigate that problem by not putting the water there for sure.”

Neopestalotiopsis Symptoms

Neopestalotiopsis causes leaf spots on strawberry plants. It develops quickly and produces spores on the leaves. It can cause severe leaf spotting and fruit rot under favorable weather conditions.

The cold temperatures that Fancy Farms and other strawberry farms experienced has had an effect on the production of this year’s crop.

“It slows the ripening process down on the strawberries. The color gets off here for a little bit, because there’s no sunlight,” Grooms said. “It puts everybody back on an even playing field as far as coming back with fruit and color. You’re all going to be there together coming in. What does that do to the market? How do you put a price on that? It has effects, we’ll say that.”