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Discussion Starter #1
This will be my third year growing strawberries on a small commercial scale. I'm finding the economics of strawberry farming to be a little discouraging and would be interested in hearing from other strawberry growers as to how they have made the endeavor profitable.

In a nutshell, I'm a one-person operation with less than a half-acre in production. I have a retailer who will buy everything I can produce at the price of $1.75 per pint. I package and deliver the berries each morning between May and September.

This year I turned a profit, but barely. Strawberry farming is extremely labor intensive. I spend approximately three hours each morning picking, sorting, packing, and delivering. I haven't kept track of how much time I spend maintaining the beds, but it is considerable. I'd be surprised if I've paid myself more than $2.50 an hour when all's said and done.

This winter I need to decide whether to continue doing what I'm doing, whether to expand, or whether to hang it up and look for something more profitable. I think that perhaps the biggest time-suck is maintaining the beds--weeding, protecting plants and berries from birds, gophers, wasps, and other pestilence, treating for disease (leaf spot this year), messing with the drip system, installing plastic mulch, cutting runners, starting new rows, etc. It's been extremely time-intensive. For that reason, I'm leery of expanding at this point--although expanding production seems to be the only way of making the venture profitable.

For that reason, I thought I'd ask whether there are any other strawberry growers (particularly one-person operations) who have found ways of reducing the amount of labor involved and of otherwise making the venture profitable. I'm all ears!
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I'll have to give some thought to the U-pick idea. I don't especially like the thought of people coming in and out of my place, but maybe if I had very limited, designated hours (Saturday 9-12, Wednesday 5-7) I could retain my privacy. Another possibility would be a roadside stand with a lockbox.

Although I haven't kept track of my hours (something I will definitely do this coming year), I feel as though it's my labor on which I'm not getting even the barest return. Quite a lot goes into maintaining the beds during the 8-or-so months that the plants are not producing. Seems like I finish weeding and stripping runners, and it's time to begin all over again!

Don't get me wrong--I don't mind hard work--but it does seem like I'm spending an inordinate amount of time for the tiny hourly "wage" I manage to make from the venture. I'd be curious to know what amount of time other small-scale strawberry growers spend in the field and what steps they've taken to reduce the amount of time that is required. Are there any one- or two-person growers who would be willing to describe, even generally, how they are doing labor/cost/profit-wise?
 

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I'm not a grower, but my next door neighbor has a large commercial and You Pick operation. His situation would be so different from yours--he grows June bearers, uses chemicals, machinery, and migrant labor--and most of his labor is highly concentrated just before and during the picking season. In my own opinion, any kind of strawberry production for sale is very risky business.

If you are offering your strawberries solely to a grocery store, you are receiving the lowest possible price for them and you are not getting the retail price for yourself. If you can develop your own market--roadside, farmers market, or delivery system, you could maximize the profit.

You should be keeping production records, too, to see if you are getting the expected poundage per foot of row. There may be something in your growing routine that can boost the production--plant variety, fertilization, water, age of the plants, something that would help you get more with the same amount of labor.

Another unique system that I have seen is a "strawberry house" system, where individual plants are potted and hung in tiered rows on pipe rails and columns--with individual drip irrigation under a plastic house--whose sides can be lowered for winter protection(or screened for bird control). It is first come, first served picking and sold by the pound....retail. Keep in mind, though, this is alongside a UPick blueberry operation, with plenty of people traffic. Pricey to start, but it could be highly proftable.

Another thing to keep in mind: strawberries tend to lose their vigor after about three years of production, so, in order to get maximum size and poundage, you should be replacing plants with new, disease free ones in a new soil location on a routine basis...This may add to your workload, but it is part of the equation whether you decide to go ahead.

http://strawberryplants.org/2011/05/how-many-strawberries-do-strawberry-plants-produce/

Hope these ideas may help.

geo
 

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I tend to agree with Geo that you're getting the lowest possible price for your efforts.

There is a guy I know that started a "strawberry house" type thing not to far from me. It seems to work well for him but for whatever the reasons, his berries just didn't have much taste. Not sure if it was the growing medium or what but I just wasn't impressed. We bought berries there once and wouldn't again. No taste, no repeat business from me. (That has happened with me a lot with tomatoes in the past.)

If you're taking them to the grocery outlet, could you also take them to a farmers market where you could double the price and maybe sell half as many? Could you also add some other crops that would add some variety in land use and what you have to sell?

Selling on a wholesale level is a tough business even for the big boys. Profit margins are pretty low.

Just the thoughts that come to mind.
 

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Just a few observations...

Your selling "wholesale" but getting a good price. So it isn't that. Doing retail sales will not increase your on farm profit. Farm Market selling will take more time and likely just pay for the time it takes. If you need the income do it. It will likely pay for your time. But don't think it will make your growing venture profitable. On-farm profit is made before the farm gate.

Your actually making money. Which is good. Tho not much in your opinion. You will need to increase yields. Yield per plant is easier than adding acres. It takes the same time to water, weed, and trim a plant producing 12 oz as one making 16. It may even take less time to pick if the difference is made up in bigger berries. Get the yield up then increase the area.


Focus on your growing methods
Your growing like the big boys. Outside, on black plastic, with drip irrigation. Do you use conventional soil additives, soil sterilants, fungicides, and pesticides? Why not?


Did you look into protected culture? A high tunnel can give you higher quality berries all things equal. 1-2 oz a plant will make bank. How many were ruined by rain? Birds? Fungus?

Are you growing varieties noted for their production in your area? Variety selection can make a 25% increase by it's self....

Are you practicing the most up to date methods?

A ton of work has been done by the various state extensions. Utilize it.
 

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I have been highly discouraged about strawberries too... It just doesnt seem like I get back what I put intothem but my issue was different-late frosts were killing off most of my June bearing strawberries because I pulledmulch too early.This year I yanked mostof the plants and I am trying a different variety and moving it to a spot that wont get quite as much frost. They are so much work compared to other plants!
 

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I have been highly discouraged about strawberries too... It just doesnt seem like I get back what I put intothem but my issue was different-late frosts were killing off most of my June bearing strawberries because I pulledmulch too early.This year I yanked mostof the plants and I am trying a different variety and moving it to a spot that wont get quite as much frost. They are so much work compared to other plants!
In Michigan, you will need to set up a sprinkler system in advance to use when you get a temperature drop and frost. Watch the evening weather report, and get up at 4 AM. Put a thermometer near your back step at ground level to check. I use an overhead sprinkler on a tripod, set in the middle of the patch--and turn it on and leave it on until the sun finally hits the leaves. The water from the hose is fifty degrees, so the constant washing effect will prevent frost from forming--and when the sun comes out, the water will keep any ice particles from burning as the sun hits the plants.

(I also listen for the click, click, click of the sprinklers in my neighbor's field(about twenty acres)--if I fail to turn mine on, and his are clicking-----I know I'm in trouble...:) ) Never been arrested yet for prowling in my garden that early with a flashlight......

geo
 

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I had to go back and reread the first post. I thought you said $1.75 a QUART rather than $1.75 a PINT. Changes the perspective a bit. That's not such a bad price.
 

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In Michigan, you will need to set up a sprinkler system in advance to use when you get a temperature drop and frost. Watch the evening weather report, and get up at 4 AM. Put a thermometer near your back step at ground level to check. I use an overhead sprinkler on a tripod, set in the middle of the patch--and turn it on and leave it on until the sun finally hits the leaves. The water from the hose is fifty degrees, so the constant washing effect will prevent frost from forming--and when the sun comes out, the water will keep any ice particles from burning as the sun hits the plants.

(I also listen for the click, click, click of the sprinklers in my neighbor's field(about twenty acres)--if I fail to turn mine on, and his are clicking-----I know I'm in trouble...:) ) Never been arrested yet for prowling in my garden that early with a flashlight......

geo
Next year I am going to leave them mulched until later to delay them waking up from winter. Usually I have a sea of white blossoms for that last full moon and every attempt to help them has failed so I think if i mulch them that maybe they wont be flowering at that point and thus maybe save them better ??? maybe???
 

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Actually, I kinda like the idea of a high tunnel for strawberry production. Lets you control a lot of things... how much water and when, keeps the birds out, offers some protection from light frost, and I'm guessing probably brings the crop to market a little earlier. Gotta give that some thought.
 

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Actually, I kinda like the idea of a high tunnel for strawberry production. Lets you control a lot of things... how much water and when, keeps the birds out, offers some protection from light frost, and I'm guessing probably brings the crop to market a little earlier. Gotta give that some thought.

the big thing is adding a double row cover and maintaining 20F plus and not losing leaf growth. In the north this can mean the difference between breaking even and a large profit.
 

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Next year I am going to leave them mulched until later to delay them waking up from winter. Usually I have a sea of white blossoms for that last full moon and every attempt to help them has failed so I think if i mulch them that maybe they wont be flowering at that point and thus maybe save them better ??? maybe???
Don't want to contribute to thread drift here, since the OP was asking about everbearers. But my opinion is that the sooner you uncover them(within reason) you'll get more leaves, which in turn will support the coming berry growth. My neighbor, for example, counts on snow for mulch in the wintertime. The only mulch he puts on them is slightly before picking time, to keep the rain from splashing mud and sand on the ripe berries. You also might consider a later season variety than what you are growing now. The late season berries can blossom up to two weeks later than the early season ones. But in Michigan, you never know, you can get a freak frost in late May, early June, so you need to have an insurance policy of sprinkling, or covering them--on standby.

Take a look at this site again, you might find some later varieties and ideas. http://strawberryplants.org/

geo
 

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We grow a few.

Not sure what happened to everything I type:facepalm:

I know a one man operation is tough. I am basically a one man operation for the produce I grow. The berry field is a joint project (my land and small investment) I have with a friend who farms full time. The berries we plant are set in September and harvest late March-June. We plant 6 acres and harvest 500-800 gallons a day. We sell for $11-$12 per gallon/box/pale. Sounds like a lot of money but it cost $6000.00 per acre to plant, pay workers to pick,cost of pales/boxes.

We basically sell direct to consumer straight out of the field; roadside stands or farmers markets. We do wholesale to a few places but only at $10-$11 per box/pale. They make $1 per sale but usually sale 1000-1500 boxes per week, so they make good money.

The only other thing in your situation is maybe look at a different verity? I am not sure what that would be in your area but maybe one where you don't have to deal with the runners.

I know if I added up my labor for the produce I sale that I am not making that much money. But I work a full time job 45+ hours a week and farm on the side.

Is hiring part time help for harvest not an option for you?
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Henry, Those are great pictures, and your description of your operation is encouraging.

I like the idea of using a cover crop between rows. What is it, and do you mow it? Does it need to be reseeded every year?

You indicate that you plant in September and harvest late March-June. So you must be growing all June-bearers. That would certainly make harvesting easier. My harvest season extends from June through October. No wonder I'm tired!

I'd like to ask you, though, how many years do you keep plants going before starting new ones, and what percentage of your rows are you pulling up and planting anew in a given year? I've found starting new rows--especially when hilling and installing plastic and drip tape by hand--is extremely time-consuming. The materials cost is also quite high when buying in small quantities.

Do you start new plants from runners or buy all new crowns? This last year, my cost for new starts was $0.18 per crown. That really added up. I've researched the question of whether you can propagate from runners indefinitely, and I've gotten conflicting information. Some suggests that after a certain number of generations you can't get good plants and have to start over from seed. Other sources seem to indicate that you can go on forever using runners to start new plants.

It looks like you're using a single line of drip tape for a double row. I've found that even using high-flow, 8-inch OC drip tape, it's hard to keep a double row adequately irrigated. So I spend a lot of time fussing over irrigation. What kind of drip tape do you use, and do you find it adequate? Do you feel that the overhead sprinkler you use for the between-the-rows cover crop gets underneath the plastic to help keep the berries watered? Any problems with fungal disease from overhead watering?

What do you do for bird-protection and disease management? This last year I installed wire hoops with bird netting attached with clothes pins. It worked fine, but the time involved was considerable, and it greatly increased the amount of time spent on harvesting. I also spent a lot of time battling wasps, gophers, and leaf spot. Any advice for pest and disease management that might help me get on a schedule of control rather than being constantly chasing after problems?

What do you use to protect your rows from cold in the winter? I used straw this year because the cost of Remay would have eaten up just about all my profit.

I look at your neat, happy rows, and it makes me think it's me that's doing something wrong. Sounds like I have several problems conspiring against me--first, it sounds like my operation is entirely too small to be profitable, and it sounds like I've got multiple issues causing my field to be unusually time-consuming. Any additional advice you have would be much appreciated!

Thank you! ~Maddy
 
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