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Oregon strawberries ready for early harvest

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Oregon could see its earliest commercial harvest of strawberries since 2005 starting this weekend, unofficially kicking off the start of the state’s agricultural growing season:

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Even though the industry sector has declined from what it was decades ago, the Oregon strawberry has retained its iconic status, according to Laura Barton of the Oregon Department of Agriculture:

BARTON:  “It kind of is the symbol of summer is coming. Everyone gets really excited when the fresh strawberries come into season because they are so delicious and they are colorful.”  :14

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Production has stabilized at about 2-thousand acres planted and more than 21 million pounds harvested. Oregon strawberries have mostly gone into processing, but there’s a push for more fresh market berries to be grown:

BARTON:  “There are many, many stores–  both large and small retail opportunities– where the buyers have said, we would buy what we could get our hands on, but we just can’t get any. There’s a demand out there, for sure.”  :13

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Local growers can get a higher price for fresh berries, but there are challenges due to the fragile nature of the Oregon strawberry. The introduction of longer lasting varieties could help. In the meantime, consumers can always enjoy frozen Oregon strawberries or value-added products year around, but should also get ready to enjoy an early start this year on strawberries fresh out of the field. In Salem, I’m Bruce Pokarney.

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While a majority of Oregon strawberries will always go to the processing market, BARTON says there are some good financial reasons why the trend is shifting a bit towards more being grown for the fresh market:

“Especially if you are selling a fresh market strawberry direct to consumers, say at a farm stand or farmers’ market, the money you make will come back right away and there is no middleman there. And even if you are selling to a store or through a distributor, you are still going to get a higher price for that fresh market strawberry than you will for a processed berry.”  :20

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BARTON says the Oregon strawberry remains an important crop based on quality and because it is one of the first commodities to be harvested locally:

“People who grew up here or have gotten exposed to the Oregon strawberry go, wow, because the flavor is so intense and the color is so red because of the varieties we grow. So it really is the icon of, let’s celebrate summer.”  :16

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