PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Willamette Valley berry farmers can’t catch a break.
In 2021, the heat dome that drove temperatures up to 116 degrees in some places roasted blackberries, marionberries and raspberries on the vine at South Barlow Berries U-pick farm in Canby. This year, it’s the rain that’s spoiling the strawberries.
“This weather is just, it’s not on our side,” said Tisa Orlov, who works at the farm. “It’s too muddy for U-pickers to even go out there.”
The rain is driving away their customers. And while the strawberries sit on the vine, waiting to get picked, they’re being damaged by the record-breaking precipitation.
The rain makes the berries soft and mushy. Some of them are cracking and becoming discolored. Tony Martishev, who owns the farm, said they almost look like they’re starting to rot and said it’s “just yucky.”
“It’s hard to sell the product when it’s like that because it needs to be presentable,” he said.
It’s not just the rain, the lack of sunshine is impacting the berries too. Orlov said customers have been commenting on the strawberry flavors, saying they just aren’t as sweet as they should be. She said this is because the berries need at least two good days of sunshine to reach their perfect level of sweetness.
On top of the rain discouraging customers from picking their own berries and damaging the berries on the vine, Martishev said the weather could also have an impact on next year’s crop. The ground has been too saturated for him to plant the strawberry plants he’s ordered for next year. He usually plants them in May, but at this rate, they’ll be in the cooler until July or August and they might not even survive in the cooler for that long.
Thankfully, Marishev doesn’t expect the heavy rainfall to affect the caneberries – his blackberries, marionberries and raspberries. He said they’re just starting to form fruit and don’t show any signs of damage so far.
However, if it continues to rain like this, his farmworkers won’t be able to put fungicides on the plants and he could end up losing a lot of berries later in the summer to mold.
South Barlow Berries suffered a major loss of their caneberries in late June 2021. Marishev and Orlov said they still haven’t fully recovered financially. They submitted an application for a forgivable loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency’s disaster assistance program, but were denied.
Orlov explained that the application process takes the farm’s gross income from 2021 and compares it to previous years to determine its loss and if it qualifies for the financial aid. She said South Barlow Berries didn’t make the cut.
She and Martishev hope they might still qualify if the requirements are adjusted and if a second round of applications are accepted.
“I just don’t know how much longer I can take this,” Martishev siad. “Farmers, especially small farmers, they get choked out and it hurts.”
While South Barlow Berries is bracing for another hit from their rain-soaked strawberries, they’re still hoping people will support their business.
Orlov and Martishev said the berries, although they might be a bit soft, are still great for canning and freezing. They’d be excellent in syrups, jams and smoothies. The farmers don’t want to see their hard work go to waste.
“It’s muddy. I give all the customers all the credit for coming out and supporting the local farmer,” Martishev said.
The farm is occasionally offering discounts on day-old berries to try to sell more product. However, customers should expect for the price of berries to be higher in 2022 than they were in 2021. Like many other industries, Oregon’s farms are feeling the effects of inflation. Martishev said he had to raise his prices to afford fuel for his farm vehicles and to pay his workers a fair wage.
As they wait for more customers to arrive, the staff at South Barlow Berries will be eying the forecast, watching for sunshine.
“I’ll keep my fingers crossed,” Martishev said. Hopefully this weekend is the last week of rain for a while.”
South Barlow Berries welcomes customers to stop by their farm in Canby. They also sell their berries at the following farmers markets: Salem, Oregon City, Rocky Butte, Wilsonville, West Linn and Molalla.