Published 12:00 am Friday, June 7, 2013

SALISBURY — Strawberry farmers could lose thousands of dollars in the last weeks of harvest if heavy rains come as forecast, some local growers say.

Torrential downpours are expected to continue through the weekend as Tropical Storm Andrea heads north. Rowan County farmers, like Woodleaf’s Artie Watson, said too much rain could harm some crops.

But his strawberries, he said, appear to be a sure casualty.

“The strawberry fruit just can’t take all that water,” Watson said. “It just rots.”

Workers moved briskly through lanes of squash plants, picking the vegetables Thursday afternoon as dark clouds rolled in overhead.

Watson said heavy rains can affect farmers in several different ways, depending on timing and the crop.

Heavy rain, he said, could postpone pollination, affecting fruit growth.

“Weather like this, a week from now, we might notice a production drop,” Watson said.

The longtime farmer said employees hustled through the picking Thursday because they may not be able to harvest today if the weather is too poor.

But the rain shouldn’t be significantly detrimental to his non-strawberry crops.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued a press release Thursday recommending farmers prepare for the tropical storm’s wind and rain output.

The release urged farmers to be aware of the potential for flash floods and to invest in long-term and short-term storm plans for crops, cattle and pesticides or fertilizer.

The National Weather Service announced Thursday that Rowan County would be under a flash flood watch until this afternoon.

Jason Starnes, of Four S Farms off Leonard Road, said his crops could actually use a few inches of rain — but a few too many could hurt, also.

“An inch or two would really help us good,” Starnes said. “Right now our wheat crop is not quite ready.”

It’s also the time of year, Starnes said, when farmers are thankful for any rain.

Still, he said, if his wheat sees a downpour like the kind slated this weekend, it could hurt the crop.

“There’s a fine line you walk with a wheat crop,” he said.

Watson said he’s sure he’s going to lose between 15,000 and 18,000 pounds of strawberries due to the storm.

That’s about how much his pickers gather in one week. Next week was probably going to be the last one of the harvest, he said.

The strawberries amount to anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000, he estimated.

“You sort of work with nature,” Watson said. “Whatever it deals you, you just have to work with it.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.