Weather swings affecting local farmers' crops

Posted at 10:20 PM, Feb 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-24 23:00:26-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - The weather has been all over the place during the month of February!

One day it's 70 degrees and breezy, and the next day it's snowing. While it may be annoying for most people to deal with, it doesn't affect anyone quite like it does our local farmers.

Tom Baker, farmer of Brookdale Farm in Virginia Beach, can corroborate that from personal experience. He has been farming for more than 20 years and says each year brings its own set of troubles.

This year, the fluctuating February forecast is to blame for issues related to growing strawberries.

"They're way ahead of a normal schedule because it's been so, so warm," he says.

The warm weather conditions causes the flowers to bloom, but if they bloom too early and cold weather hits, their life span is cut short.

Walking through the farm, he points out the some 13,000 plants he has growing.

"Each plant makes a pound and a half to two pounds of strawberries [but many of the plants flowers were lost in the most recent cold spell]," he says.

Even with the loss of the strawberries that weren't able to mature, Baker says that doesn't necessarily indicate a bad season.

"On the other hand, we've got plants that have gotten bigger. The crown of the plant has gotten bigger than normal, it's put on more branch crowns, so we've got more flowers in the pipeline," he says.

We know Mother Nature can be unpredictable, but Baker says it's all about adapting.

"Every time it gets cold we'll be watching the weather, watching our instruments in the field, watching the thermometer [and] coming out at night looking at the first signs of frost," he says.

Baker says new technology has helped them create a better environment for the growing plants. The farm has multiple data loggers, which record temperatures in the field every 15 minutes around the clock, seven days a week.

Baker is able to access that data from an app on his smartphone and make any adjustments if needed. He says that can backfire, though, because, "some of the things you do to protect the flowers - if it gets too too cold, you can have it backfired and it does you worse than if you had done nothing."

Even with the ups and downs, Baker wouldn't want to be anything else but a farmer.

For those wondering how the strawberries are projected to look this spring, Baker laughs and says, "Yes, we've lost some blossoms, but come April, May - the main parts of strawberry season - you'll never know the difference. The best berries are the one you pick yourself."