Local strawberry grower sees crop arrive earlier than expected

NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – A sign of summer has arrived much sooner than expected across the state. Growers are attributing a mild winter and early spring for the premature arrival of strawberries, and the weather has brought other concerns for fruit farmers.

Bill Landreth, the owner of Berries by Bill in Newport, says his crop this year compares to none other, and, while his staff is running ahead of schedule, customers are lagging behind.

"We've got a heck of a berry crop that needs a home," Landreth said.

Landreth has grown and sold strawberries in Newport for 13 years. He began to harvest last week what he calls his biggest and best crop ever.

"Right now, the problem is we've got a lot of berries," he said. "People are normally used to strawberries in May. They better get them in April because, if it gets hot again, they're going to be gone in a hurry."

Landreth says his farm has never had that problem. His crews are working three weeks ahead of schedule. Since he is anticipating a much shorter strawberry season this year, his biggest concern is how to unload the bountiful amount of berries getting riper by the day.

"Normally, we go to the first of June," Landreth explained about strawberry season. "It's possible we could quit the middle of May, so, berries people are accustomed to getting, they better get now."

What's behind the boom is weather. Landreth says record-breaking warmth in March and a near nonexistent winter have sped up harvest and increased production. In a normal year, each plant averages about a pound of strawberries. This year, however, Landreth expects to average 1.5 to 2 pounds of fruit per plant.

"We sell out some days early, but I don't believe this year we're going to have that problem," Landreth noted.

He also reopened the U-Pik field, encouraging people to pick their own strawberries from the vine. That option has previously been unavailable due to a low yield in the last two to three years.

"I mean, it's just a state of mind that we're not accustomed to having strawberries this year," Landreth said, "but they're here."

He has also begun receiving phone calls from people asking when the strawberries will be ready. He is advising customers to get berries now, or they will likely be gone soon.

To check availability, contact Berries by Bill at 870-503-0139.

Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved.