Berry growers say heavy rains spoil Oregon strawberries

South Barlow Berries, a pick-your-own farm in Canby, does not know how much additional damage its crops may suffer

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Willamette Valley berry growers can’t take a break.

In 2021, the heat dome that pushed temperatures up to 116 degrees in some places toasted blackberries, puppets and raspberries on the vine at South Barlow Bays U-pick farm in Canby. This year, it’s the rain that spoils the strawberries.

“This weather is right, it’s not on our side,” said Tisa Orlov, who works on the farm. “It’s too muddy for self-pickers to even go there.”

The rain scares away their customers. And while the strawberries sit on the vine, waiting to be picked, they are damaged by the record rainfall.

Rain makes the berries soft and mushy. Some of them crack and fade. Tony Martishev, owner of the farm, said they almost looked like they were starting to rot and said it was “just disgusting”.

“It’s hard to sell the product when it’s like that because it has to be presentable,” he said.

It’s not just the rain, the lack of sun also has an impact on the berries. Orlov said customers commented on the strawberry flavors, saying they just weren’t as sweet as they should be. She said that’s because the berries need at least two good days of sunshine to reach their perfect level of sweetness.

Along with rain discouraging customers from picking their own berries and damaging berries on the vine, Martishev said the weather could also impact next year’s harvest. The soil is too saturated for him to plant the strawberries he has ordered for next year. He usually plants them in May, but at that rate they’ll be in the cooler until July or August and they might not even survive in the cooler that long.

Luckily, Marishev doesn’t expect the heavy rains to affect the cranberries — his blackberries, puppets and raspberries. He said they were just starting to form fruit and showed no signs of damage so far.

However, if it keeps raining like this, his farmhands won’t be able to put fungicides on the plants and he could end up losing a lot of berries later in the summer to mold.

South Barlow Berries suffered a significant loss of its cranberries in late June 2021. Marishev and Orlov said they still haven’t fully recovered financially. They applied for a forgivable loan through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Services Agency Disaster Assistance Program, but were denied.

Orlov explained that the application process takes the farm’s gross income from 2021 and compares it to previous years to determine her loss and whether she is eligible for financial assistance. She said South Barlow Berries didn’t make the cut.

She and Martishev hope they could still qualify if the requirements are adjusted and a second round of applications is accepted.

“I just don’t know how much longer I can hold this,” Martishev said. “Farmers, especially small farmers, they are choking and it hurts.”

As South Barlow Berries prepare for another hit of rain-soaked strawberries, they are still hoping people will support their business.

Orlov and Martishev said the berries, although a bit soft, are still great for canning and freezing. They would be excellent in syrups, jams and smoothies. Farmers don’t want to see their hard work go to waste.

“It’s muddy. I give all the customers all the credit for coming and supporting the local farmer,” Martishev said.

The farm occasionally offers day berry discounts to try to sell more produce. However, customers should expect berry prices to be higher in 2022 than they were in 2021. Like many other industries, Oregon farms are feeling the effects of inflation. Martishev said he needed to raise his prices to buy fuel for his farm vehicles and to pay his workers a fair wage.

While waiting for more customers to arrive, staff at South Barlow Berries will be monitoring the forecast, watching for the sun.

“I’ll cross my fingers,” Martishev said. Hopefully this weekend will be the last week of rain for a while.

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