A crop that already has its annual challenges is struggling to overcome its latest obstacle.
Florida strawberry farmer Dustin Grooms confirmed that Neopestalotiopsis Fruit Rot has provided uncertainty for the future of the industry in Florida.
“I do feel like this year was amplified a little bit more with that new disease because normally you can come out there with something to spray on it and you can maintain it,” Grooms said. “Overall, we don’t know what’s going to happen next year. It’s on the back of everybody’s minds right now.”
Worse Over Time
The disease has progressively gotten worse since it was first discovered on five farms during the 2018-19 season. It was attributed to one nursery source in North Carolina. The disease is quickly expanding across Florida and has moved northward. It even wiped out one Georgia farmer’s 12 acres this year.
Grooms said he spent more money to hand-prune plants to remove leaves while also applying additional sprays to keep the plants healthy.
“We had a real bad flareup industry wide after a rain. It flared up pretty much on the whole industry there,” Grooms said. “We battled it and battled it. Some blocks were worse. Why? Who knows?”
Grooms’ challenging season also included continued competition against early-season imports that suppressed market prices. Grooms also sprayed the most he’s ever sprayed for chili thrips and spider mites which wasn’t enough in some instances.
“It takes a lot of money right now to be a Florida strawberry farmer. The risks are getting moreso every single day. I’m 39, my dad is 74. That’s a long road ahead to get to 74 where he’s at,” Grooms said. “I’m sure I’m going to see a lot more problems than this disease. But we’re going to put our best foot forward and just try to adapt and overcome, that’s all we can do.
“The price did end up going back up, and it’s actually really high right now for the month of April. We were able to maintain a handful of blocks. It wasn’t enough to offset the low production of the year. The X and Y axis didn’t cross there good. Tough season, a lot of problems. We’ll just have to try it again next year and see what happens. No two years are alike.”