October 24, 2021

Berry picking underway late due to wet weather

Soggy start to season

Michael McCleary/contributing photographer

Gabriella Rufo picks berries at Cobblestone Valley Farm. The farm opened its berry-picking season just last Friday due to restraints caused by rain.

Usually, Maureen Knapp’s farm has been open for more than a week by this time of year.

Knapp, the co-owner of Cobblestone Valley Farm in Preble with her husband, Paul Knapp, usually figures that the berry-picking season for their strawberry farm would start around June 15. The berries ripen at their own pace though, and sometimes they can open June 5.

This year, rain and cooler weather has delayed their start, and while the weekend opening provided optimism, they’ve lost at least a third of their season.

“It’s really hard to make up for it,” Knapp said. “It’s not like we can try to get everyone in all at once. It just is what it is, we’re kind of at the mercy of the weather.”

Frequent rain has slowed blueberry and strawberry seasons, causing many places to open later in the season or delay picking times daily for the field to dry out from the rain of the night prior. Courtney Weber, associate professor of horticulture in Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science, said the wet soil has caused increased root rot, which reduces the quality of the berries in some cases.

“The rain and low temperatures have made the strawberry crop 10 days or so later than average, Weber said. “Fruit quality looks OK, so far, but if it gets hot soon there could be higher levels of fruit rot.”

Barb Neal, an association community educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension, said the blueberry crop has faced similar struggles in disease management with the wet and cool conditons, but the crop itself has turned out nice — like the strawberries.

For Knapp, the rain has helped her berries grow well, and she said the quality is some of the best she’s ever seen. When the berries are good, she said, more people spread the word and more people come.

The field opened Friday, had a huge crowd for Saturday and a nice crowd for Sunday, she said. If it were up to her, she would keep the rain from coming for at least another week. But her season is undeniably shorter and rain remains in the forecast.

“When they’re ripe and it rains, two things happen: the berries absorb water and the people don’t come and pick,” Knapp said. “Then they start to go bad.”

Despite gray skies Monday, the rain held and about 10 people scattered across the fields. Gabriella Rufo, a student at Le Moyne College, plucked a berry and placed it in a nearly full bucket.

Steve Ammerman, the manager of public affairs and senior associate director of public policy at the New York Farm Bureau, said the ripening of the berries took longer due to the cooler and cloudier conditions.

“All and all what we’ve been hearing is that things are progressing,” Ammerman said. “It was a little bit of a slow start.”

With Knapp’s season expected to end around July 4 — as it does most years — Knapp just hopes the rain holds off.