Hail Damages Some of Area's Strawberries
Wind whipped hail into a lush strawberry field near Carthage Friday night and left a dent in the county's best crop in years.
However, farmer Richard Pressley said he still has strawberries from another field and expects some of the damaged plants to recover, perhaps before the end of the current season.
"And it was probably the best crop I ever had," Pressley said. "Certainly it was the sweetest crop."
The freak storm struck late Friday night and apparently touched down in that one area of Moore County, then moved into a strawberry field near Sanford in Lee County. The high winds moved the hailstones with such force that the damage was worse than would have been expected without wind.
Pressley said the storm missed two fields of oats on opposite sides of the road and also caused no damage to the corn crop. The Pressley farm on Union Church Road, about two miles east of Carthage, is also the scene of a corn maze each fall.
"We had a lot of berries out there," he said. "We had hoped to continue to harvest berries into June."
Despite the heavy loss, Pressley said he still has plenty of berries for sale at the produce stand on the farm. He had been taking berries for sale at all four farmers' markets across the county, but now said he will probably cut back on a couple of those markets and concentrate on the remaining markets and the farm produce stand.
Taylor Williams, a crop specialist with the Moore County Cooperative Extension Service, estimates that the storm damaged 15,000 pounds of berries.
"He still has berries, and they are beautiful," Williams said of the Pressley crop.
The Pressley farm is one of at least five Moore County farms that raise strawberries for retail sale on the farm, and the crop has been abundant and quality good at all of them, according to the agriculture agent. No damage was reported at the other farms.
Williams said hail wreaks two types of damage to strawberries -- the ripe berries are destroyed, and the leaves are damaged. Of the two, the leaf damage is more serious, because leaves help to nourish the plant and keep it cool during hot weather. Williams said that the Pressley plants may benefit from the relatively mild weather of recent days, a factor that may help the plants recover more quickly.
Pressley said some blooms on the damaged plants did survive, and it's possible that they may produce crowns and more berries before the season ends in June. He applied more fertilizer during the weekend to encourage the plants to recover and resume production.
"It was a painful loss," Williams said.
Williams said strawberries are a high-value crop. Berries require intense personal attention and are "so perishable."
Most strawberry farmers carry no insurance on their crops because insurance is difficult to secure.
Moore County is not among the North Carolina counties included in a pilot insurance program, but Williams said it may be possible for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to adopt Moore into the program. Strawberries grow well in this part of the state and growers may be encouraged to lobby for inclusion.
Despite the loss, Pressley was philosophical when interviewed Monday. He said that his crop came especially early this year and he has already harvested about 50 percent of the crop.
"This is my eighth year growing strawberries, and the second time I've had a big hit like this. It's part of farming," he said.
Although the Friday night storm appears to have been highly local, North Carolina was beset with a series of storms late last week and into the weekend. Tornadoes struck portions of Guilford and Forsyth counties and were blamed for at least one death late last week. On Sunday, another series of tornadic storms struck several counties in the eastern part of the state, where several persons were injured, damage was extensive and power outages were common.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story