Alabama strawberry producers enjoyed sweet success in 2020. Farmers are hoping for a repeat performance this year as planting season nears. Edgar Vinson, assistant research professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Horticulture at Auburn University, said growers target Oct. 15 date as the latest timeframe they want to have this year’s crop in the ground.
“They can certainly be planted after that date but you’re sacrificing plant size when you do that, and that’s going to affect yield,” Vinson said. “The later you plant, the less time you have to grow them to get them to that optimal size.”
While strawberry production in Alabama is small compared to high-production states like Florida, it is growing with interest when you consider the number of farming operations there are in the state. In 2012, there was 74 farms on 158 acres. But that number increased 123 farms on 111 acres in 2017.
“It certainly speaks to the growing interest, the growing consumer demand for fresh Alabama grown strawberry,” Vinson said. “Agritourism is a growing industry and strawberry production is certainly a destination for a lot of people who want to be able to harvest strawberries themselves.”
It will certainly continue to grow in popularity if growers find similar success with production and marketing like they did in 2020. Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, strawberry producers capitalized on selling their crop to families who wanted to get their children out of the house.
Alabama grower Bobby Ray Holmes said demand was overwhelming. U-pick strawberry operations provided families an outlet to escape the new norm of social isolation.
“We had a really great year last year. Northern parts of the state, a lot of growers had more yield than they’ve ever had,” Vinson said. “I really think the (’21) outlook is good. You do have to consider the pandemic and where we’ll be.”
Strawberries will normally be ready for small harvest in late March and continue through mid-June.