In years past, December was not the month to say a lot about strawberries in Louisiana, but with growers planting newer varieties that produce earlier, it’s becoming the norm.

LSU AgCenter area horticulture agent Sandra Benjamin said some growers have been picking berries for nearly a month. “There are not many growers with berries, but they are beginning to come in a little at a time.”

For years, growers planned for their crop to be really in full swing by Valentine’s Day. But with more growers using the Festival and Radiance varieties, the fruit is now coming in several months earlier.

Mark Liuzza, a Tangipahoa grower, said the berries are looking great – very full and healthy. However, some plants are being damaged by mold.

“Our growers planted between Sept. 23 and Oct. 7, and they started harvesting the week of Thanksgiving,” Benjamin said. “Some growers are harvesting every two days, and on warmer days some farmers have harvested as much as 100 flats per acre.”

Growers are just beginning to see production from bare root plants, which is expected since they normally don’t produce as early as transplants.

“So far the weather has not caused any concern to the farmers,” Benjamin said.

The plants had to be covered during a recent cold snap, which is a drawback of early-producing varieties.

Benjamin said producer numbers and acreage have been stable over the past several years. “There are about 40 commercial and backyard growers, with about 350 acres of strawberries planted in Tangipahoa Parish.”

The Louisiana strawberry industry involves 83 growers who produce more than 380 acres of strawberries for a gross farm value of about $15.2 million, according to the Louisiana Ag Summary.

Strawberries continue to be the leading fruit crop in the state with Tangipahoa Parish as the leading strawberry-producing parish with $11.5 million in sales during 2010.

Consumers currently can find strawberries at some farmers markets, fruit stands and stores and as well as roadside.  Prices range from $30 per flat to $3.99 per clamshell.