Ag experts: Strawberry, peach crops defy scientific explanation

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - All of the recent wet weather means South Carolina strawberry farmers are keeping an extra eye on their crop this week, but it seems this year's berries have resiliency in their roots.

Agriculture experts with the Clemson Extension Service say berry and peach crops are thriving across the state. When it comes to the peaches,  the experts say it can't be explained scientifically.

"We measured temperatures of 25 degrees for four to six hours during bloom stage," said Andy Rollins, a Clemson Extension agent in a written release. "For us to have anything after that is a blessing. It doesn't make sense at all scientifically, but we actually appear to have a full crop."

Unlike the peach crop, the experts say strawberry plants usually survive colder temperatures. However local growers say they're still amazed the plant has so successfully made it through this year's more unusual weather. Joy Cottle, owner of Cottle Farms in Columbia, says the colder weather gave them a scare during the plant's bloom stage and also delayed the farm's traditional opening date of April 1st.

"I would open and then I would close for four days because the cold weather would hit, then I would open again and close again," said Cottle.  "We were opening up every four or five days for about two or three weeks there. So it was disappointing for people to come out and think the season had started, but we weren't quite ready yet."

Cottle says the colder than usual temperatures meant covering the crops and praying for the best for her 15,000 strawberry plants.

"When it got down to about the 24 degree night, we got out there the next morning, and we're picking out under the covers and seeing what type damage we had," said Cottle. "We did have a little damage but these plants are survivors, and they're making a beautiful crop right now."

Cottle says her strawberries survived more than one cold snap, a hail storm and a beating from recent pounding rains. "Rain always damages the strawberries some because it's like a sponge and soaks up the fruit," said Cottle. "So there will be quite a bit of fruit that we'll be throwing off and throwing in the middle of the row, but that's something we always deal with."

She says while the unusual South Carolina weather has meant for some sleepless nights, she's confident this year's crop has turned out to be a sweet success.

"This particular week we should be getting right into our prime," said Cottle.

The South Carolina Department of Agriculture says other farms across the state are also thriving despite the colder temperatures in bloom stage and the recent pounding rain.

"While we did receive some excessive rain and the current berries may have sustained some damage, the good news is that strawberries will continue to bloom through June," said Kelly Coakley, the public information director for the SCDA.  "Therefore, a few warm, sunny days will put future blooms and fruits right on track."