Farmers ask shoppers to buy local strawberries, even though in short supply

AMITE, LA (WAFB) - Some strawberry farmers are pleading with shoppers in the state to buy local berries. Their crops have been distressed this year because of the rough winter. But they say strawberries are coming, it will just be later than usual. The price will also be higher, but they're counting on diehard strawberry fans to give their support.

"We had sleet, we had snow, we had 12 sunshine for days. It's surprising we got what we got," said Anthony Liuzza, owner of Liuzza Farms.

What Liuzza has is not much. There are few red berries and flowers of coming fruit sprinkled across the rows of strawberry crop. New buds are also growing. Those, Liuzza says, are berries that should be ready by Easter.

In fact, there's not much color on any of his 500 acres.

"Without having some fruit in November, December, January, February - you in trouble. You got issues. I'm not ashamed to say it. We got issues," Liuzaa said.

Issues that started with the weather and could end up souring any chance of a profit.

Right now, Liuzza says, his crops should be producing 1,000 berries a day. But workers are picking 500, every four days.

His berries are usually sold in several big chain stores around the area. It's so bad, he can't keep the store his family runs supplied either.

"It's just such a delay. We may have a few that's in the store. By no means is it the quantity we have this time of year," said Cindy Henderson, one of the owners of Berrty Town.

They too have had to bring in produce from Florida and California. Some stores are also bringing in berries from Mexico. The price is cheaper and the foreign berries are selling, but some locals are still holding out for the homegrown berries.

Liuzza's warehouse should be loaded with berries, waiting to be rolled into truck and taken to stores to be sold.

"Empty, empty," Liuzza said, walking into his cooler.

Inside, there's 62 flats of strawberries, his current stock.

"There should be 7,000 to 8,000 flats of berries here right now, March 12."

He says if there's good weather and sunshine, his berries will ripen and soon be ready for harvest. In the meantime his plea to Louisiana consumers, ask for Louisiana strawberries and dig a bit deeper into their pockets to help the local farmers meet their bills.

"All growers are going to try to get as much as they possibly can and they have to, if they're going to have next season," Liuzza said.

He added, right now, he should be paying on the plants for next year's strawberry crop. But he hasn't even made a profit off the berries that are still in the ground.

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