Summer rain worries strawberry growers

GILROY, Calif.

Strawberries are among the most sensitive crops to rain. An entire field can be lost as the moisture causes fungus to grow.

Farm workers toil with speed and precision as they harvest the strawberries. They get paid by the 20-pound tray. But they are also trying to save the crop from rain damage.

"Any time there's a rain, if there's any standing water on the plastic and the berries are sitting in it, it just basically starts a decay process that's irreversible once it gets started," Uesugi Farms General Manager Pete Aiello said.

Aiello says Mother Nature has made this a tough year to make money from strawberries. Spring rain hurt the crop that is sold fresh to markets and now the threat has returned to the summer berries, which are sold to frozen food processors.

More than half of California's strawberries are harvested after June 1. A typical acre yields 40,000 pounds of fruit.

Field worker Roberto Casas says rain is not his friend, but damage will be minimized if precipitation is a one-day event.

There are different varieties of strawberries planted in the fields near Gilroy. Camerosas are a little less tolerant of late season rain, but a different variety called albions, should fare OK. The albion variety makes up just over half of all the strawberries grown in the Watsonville-Salinas area.

There is a spillover effect, of course, when it rains. The fruit stands popular with local residents and visitors rely on a steady supply of picture-perfect berries. Rain has a way of putting a damper on business.

"Well it does because then we don't' work because nobody's going to stop when it rains and then we don't get our fruit," fruit stand vendor JoAnn Ramirez said.

Rain has an impact on consumers, too. Prices of cherries rose because of rain earlier this month. And the weather is also slowing growth of tomatoes and other crops in the Central Valley.

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