Despite some difficult conditions during this year's growing season, LSU AgCenter faculty are reporting a good strawberry crop for 2003.

LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Sandra Benjamin of Tangipahoa Parish says area strawberry producers have a pretty good crop.

“The biggest problem that we've seen is some misshapen berries due to the exceptionally wet weather that we had during the blooming period,” Benjamin said, adding, “When plants stay wet during this period, there is very little pollination going on.”

Despite the colder-than-usual, wet conditions during the growing season, Benjamin said, the plants seem to look cleaner and aren't showing any significant leaf disease problems.

The LSU AgCenter expert explained that some of the success of this year's crop may be attributed to use of some new chemicals by the farmers this year.

“The producers got off to an earlier start this year with their spraying and have used new chemicals to help with disease pressure,” she said, explaining that the new materials used by strawberry producers this year are Switch and Elevate and that farmers started their spray schedules this year during the blooming stage of the crop. They also made use of a new variety, Festival.

Another positive factor is that strawberry producers also aren't having the problems with fungus they were facing this time last year.

“Last spring strawberry farmers were having a tough time trying to produce a quality crop,” LSU AgCenter horticulture professor Regina Bracy said, explaining that heavy rains last year contributed to fungus growth on strawberry plants and cost producers in terms of production and quality.

Strawberry producers blame the nursery that sold them plants last year for most of the production problems they had.

Anthony Liuzza, an Independence, La., producer, said he went to a different nursery this year, and his plants look great.

Faculty from the LSU AgCenter worked closer with the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival Committee this year through a grant to improve the strawberry industry in the state.

John Anzalon, chairman of this year's festival, said the grant will help with new variety development, as well as herbicide, fungicide and pesticide development for the crop. He also said the committee is funding a strawberry project at the Ponchatoula High School.

LSU AgCenter economic development agent Scuddy LeBlanc said the grant is helping with the overall marketing effort of Louisiana berries.

“Members of the Strawberry Marketing Board, the Festival Committee and the researchers and agents working at the LSU AgCenter's Hammond Research Station are trying to get the word out about the superior quality of Louisiana strawberries,” LeBlanc said. The LSU AgCenter agent also stressed that the general agreement among people involved in the industry is that the Louisiana strawberry is the best in the market, but more acreage is needed.

Even with the small amount of acreage devoted to production, Louisiana strawberries are still the highest value fruit crop in the state with a farm value of $8.7 million last year.


Johnny Morgan (225-578-8484 or jmorgan@agcenter.lsu.edu) writes for the LSU AgCenter.