JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. –  If all goes well for farmers, North Carolina could be looking at an earlier start to strawberry season this year.

What You Need To Know

  • North Carolina is one of the top strawberry producing states in the country

  • Strawberry season in N.C. averages about six weeks but can stretch to eight

  • The mild winter has caused berries to ripen a month sooner than usual

For many North Carolinians, the mild winter and warm spring have been a pleasant surprise — aside from perhaps the pollen, the gloriously warm weather that’s encouraging people to get outside is also encouraging plants and crops to bloom.

Strawberry plant at Pace Family Farms
Early blooms on a strawberry plant attract a bee at Pace Family Farms. (Spectrum News 1/Rachel Boyd)

“We have lots of blooms, which is exciting, yet kind of terrifying at the same time,” Michelle Pace Davis with Pace Family Farms said. “We've got a good amount that are already a good stage along and even this one right here has red on it, which is very strange.”

Farmers are seeing berries in the field ripening a month sooner than normal thanks to the mild winter, but they’re not counting their berries before they’re picked — in fact the warm temperatures have them a little worried.

Pace Family Farms has been growing strawberries for the past six years and each season presents its own challenges. 

“The weather is one thing we can't control as a farmer,” Pace Davis said. “People are ready for strawberries and we are, too. And we'll prepare our best to make it happen.”

Strawberry plants at Pace Family Farms
Michelle Pace Davis checks on the plants under covers after a cold snap. (Spectrum News 1/Rachel Boyd)

Even with warm temperatures, there are still cold snaps and overnight lows — anything below 40 degrees and they’re looking to protect their delicate blooms and berries by putting coverings over them. They can only leave the covers on for so long, though — the plants need sunshine and airflow to thrive. In one field alone they have around 30,000 plants to preserve.

“Some of the berries, if you look at them, they look really funky and so that is from us taking the covers on and off, it messes up that pollination because you're not getting all the good wind and air to circulate it,” Pace Davis said. 

Crop insurance is a backup plan they don’t want to rely on. If they do get to pick early, they might actually get a longer season and end up with more yield — giving the plants time to bloom and berry three or four times rather than two. Their goal each year is to be picking until Memorial Day weekend.

“Our concern is since we've had such a mild winter, does that mean it's going to be really hot quicker now in May?” Pace Davis said. “And if that's the case, then we may not be able to make it to Memorial Day.”