Drought affects Minnesota strawberry growers; fewer pick-your-own options this summer

Published 4:49 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2023

By Olivia Stevens

Minnesotans may notice fewer options for strawberry picking this summer.

Dry conditions have contributed to a poor yield for many farmers. Strawberry plants require an average of one to two inches of water per week to thrive. But some parts of Minnesota have seen less than a tenth of an inch of rain this month.

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For the first time since Country Blossom Farm in Alexandria, Minn., opened in 2009, visitors will not be able to pick their own strawberries. The farm’s Troy Heald said the weather hampered production, and there’s also road construction near the fields.

“We’ve got a lot of money invested in the crop, and the time and everything — and it’s disappointing at best when there’s no reward at the end, if you will,” Heald said. “But you know, it’s farming, and you know, you have good years and you have bad.”

Heald still plans to sell pre-picked strawberries, but said people often visit for the experience of picking berries themselves.

“Our whole philosophy is a family fun farm,” Heald said. “We want people to come out, enjoy, spend some time … We used to have several U-Pick strawberry patches in the area and they’ve been gone now for a while, so we kind of started [ours] because there really weren’t any left.”

Nowthen Berries near Elk River, Minn., is one of the luckier farms, producing a strong crop so far this season. They opened for visitors to pick their own strawberries Thursday.

Nowthen Berries’ Dan Hillukka, who works another day job, has been spending his nights irrigating the fields, which he said saved them. He said he hopes to make extra profit this season as fewer farms offer the pick-your-own experience.

“I’m hoping for some added growth and sales partly due to other farms that maybe don’t have berries or not as many,” Hillukka said. “But I guess I’ll have to take my turn sometime. I think sooner or later each farm has its time to be down and out, whether you get hit by hail or some other catastrophic event I guess, so as to be thankful for what we have today.”

Pick-your-own farms across the state are listed at minnesotagrown.com.