By Clint Thompson
A couple of weeks into Jim Bennett’s first season and the Alabama strawberry producer already regrets not planting more acres than he did.
“We’ve talked about planting strawberries since we opened. This year it kind of worked out and decided we’d go for it,” said Bennett, owner of Bennett Farms in Heflin, Alabama. “It’s right at two acres of strawberries. The first year I didn’t want to bite off more than I can chew. But I wished I had planted five more acres of them. We get picked out pretty quick with the amount of strawberries we’ve got right now.”
Bennett’s strawberry patch is in its second week of production, allowing U-pick the past few days.
“It’s great to see these kids. They love it. We have a lot of other activities, other than the U-pick. They can come out and pick and spend the rest of the day with the food and activities and all that we offer,” Bennett said. “It’s fun to watch the kids and how they react and enjoy the farm. It makes it worthwhile.”
While other producers in the Southeast have experienced diseases with their strawberry crops, namely Neopestalotiopsis Fruit Rot in Florida and Georgia, Bennett hasn’t observed any fungal diseases in his crop.
“The one thing I did learn, I did not build a fence around my crop when we laid the plastic. We were covered with deer, and the deer did some damage to the plastic and ate some crowns off some of the plants. But they’ve recovered and look good now,” Bennett said.
The biggest challenge so far for this Alabama strawberry producer has been the weather. Persistent rains and cold winter temperatures stalled the growth of the strawberry plants.
“I really anticipated picking probably two weeks earlier than we were. The cool weather and cool nights and rain has slowed us down a little bit. They’re coming into full production. They look pretty good right now,” Bennett said.
Hopefully, the cold temperatures on Thursday morning will not impact the crop moving forward the rest of the season.