Strawberry season, one of the rites of spring in North Carolina, has come to an end. I hate to see it go. North Carolinians are blessed because fresh, locally grown strawberries are readily available throughout May.
Rain and cold weather did bring challenges to strawberry growers this year, but all things considered, it was a beautiful crop. North Carolina is the third leading state in the production of fresh market strawberries, with most of the fruit being sold in local grocery stores, farm stands and popular pick your own operations. More than 1,000 acres of strawberries are produced in the state, mostly by small farmers.
Mark Hoffmann, an assistant professor and Extension small fruit specialist at North Carolina State University, estimates the state has 500 to 700 strawberry producers, including small pick-your-own operations and large, integrated farms of 100 or more acres.
One thing is certain: Strawberries are a challenging crop to grow. Frosts and freezes in early spring and disease pressure throughout the growing season are ongoing challenges as are weeds and insects. North Carolina State University researchers are committed to breed varieties that are disease tolerant and do well in the state’s climate.
Two new varieties, Rocco and Liz, developed by North Carolina State and targeted for North Carolina’s growing conditions, are being propagated by nurseries and will be available for planting this fall to harvest next spring. Rocco is named in honor of Rocco Schiavone, North Carolina State’s respected strawberry researcher.
Liz is named in honor of former North Carolina State research technician Liz Cleavinger. North Carolina State strawberry breeder Gina Fernandez says both varieties are best for pick-your-own operations.
In a taste test at a strawberry field day at the Central Crops Research Station in Clayton, freshly picked Roccos, straight from the test plot, earned the highest marks for sweetness and flavor, compared to other varieties tested. Liz also did quite well.
I expect we will see more Roccos and Lizs grown for pick-your-own operations next year. That’s sweet news for both strawberry growers and strawberry consumers.