Near-perfect growing conditions in the fall have allowed Louisiana strawberry growers to produce a good early crop, despite recent freezing temperatures.

Regina Bracy, professor and research coordinator of the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station, said low temperatures may increase producer cost but have little effect on quality.

“The main problem the growers are experiencing now is the cost of row covers and the cost of labor to apply and remove the covers,” Bracy said.

These covers protect the plants from temperatures below freezing but are labor-intensive.

She said another reason the growers have such an early crop is that many of them now get their plants in the ground earlier, and these plants get a really good jump on the cold weather.

Tangipahoa Parish grower Anthony Liuzza said the warm fall weather was near perfect for growing strawberries on his farm.

“We’re picking berries right now because of good weather in October, November and December,” he said. Liuzza said he has been shipping strawberries to stores for a couple of months and expects more roadside vendors to begin selling soon.

Bracy said 20 years ago having strawberry production before Christmas would have been big news, but it’s pretty much the norm now.

“A combination of using row covers and using plug transplants has led to earlier production,” she said.

Sandra Benjamin, the LSU AgCenter county agent with responsibilities in the strawberry-growing parishes, said she’s seeing “good quality, nice size and good taste” in this year’s strawberries

For many years the strawberry growers have depended on research from the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station to help their industry stay profitable.

At a recent meeting of the state Strawberry Marketing Board, Bracy informed growers of new research at the station that will be looking at the control of nematodes.

“The product that we’re looking at in our research is Agri-Terra. This product may be an alternative to methyl bromide,” Bracy said. “Until we test it, we can’t give an opinion on its effectiveness or use.

Currently, growers use methyl bromide, which is effective for the control of soil fungi and bacteria, soil insects, nematodes and weeds.

Bracy said the way things look now, 2008 could be a really good year for the growers. She said a wet season would mean more disease problems and less firm fruit.

“But if the weather stays good, we can expect prices to be similar to last year,” she said.

Bracy said there are about 40 strawberry growers in Louisiana, and they planted between 300-400 acres in 2007. Tangipahoa remains the leading parish for strawberry production with 320 acres of berries. The majority of the strawberry acreage was planted to the variety Strawberry Festival.