Strawberry farmers yield sweet returns despite bitter winter

Strawberry farmers are hopeful their crops can recover from the hard freeze in January (Source: WAFB)
Strawberry farmers are hopeful their crops can recover from the hard freeze in January (Source: WAFB)
Strawberry farmers are hopeful their crops can recover from the hard freeze in January (Source: WAFB)
Strawberry farmers are hopeful their crops can recover from the hard freeze in January (Source: WAFB)
Strawberry farmers are hopeful their crops can recover from the hard freeze in January (Source: WAFB)
Strawberry farmers are hopeful their crops can recover from the hard freeze in January (Source: WAFB)
Strawberry farmers are hopeful their crops can recover from the hard freeze in January (Source: WAFB)
Strawberry farmers are hopeful their crops can recover from the hard freeze in January (Source: WAFB)

HOLDEN, LA (WAFB) - The icy weather that hit the south in January threatened to freeze profits for Louisiana strawberry farmers. Now that more favorable temperatures have returned, the berries are beginning to bloom and farmers have found new hope.

Seeing the smile on Rhonda Poche's face as she cruised her family's strawberry field in Holden, Louisiana, you'd never know the fourth generation strawberry farmer was coming off a bad year. Last year was the first time since the Landry-Poche Farm opened in 1926 that it did not bear fruit. When this year got off to an icy start, Poche says the berries took another hit. Ninety-five percent of their crop was crippled.

"There were tears, but then again, there's a Bible verse my daddy always goes back to. You're supposed to give your first crops away and he said, 'Well you didn't give them away, they were taken away, but that just means they are going to be better,'" Poche said.

Poche says after the August 2016 flood, her family could only afford to plant half of the strawberries they typically grow, but they are tending to their fields every day, and from the looks of it, the berries are coming back. "There's a few red ones. That's another thing that makes my heart smile, and the flowers," Poche said.

There are only a few ripe strawberries scattered in the field, but Poche says the leafy greens are great indications of a sweet return.

"The levels [of leaves] are the blooms, and the blooms are what we are looking at. There's a whole lot of them going on right now, and that's dollar signs, honey," Poche said.

Poche says it typically takes 21 days from that point for the strawberries to grow and ripen, but she has learned from experience that another round of heavy rain or ice could devastate the entire field. But Poche is not looking back. She has found a little faith and has made a promise to keep the family fields alive for its future farmers.

"I'm sure she'll be sitting in the middle of this patch the first of April eating her heart out," Poche said, referring to her granddaughter.

The Poches are hoping to have their berries ready to market at the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival, which takes place April 13 through 15.

Copyright 2018 WAFB. All rights reserved.