Late-hitting frost hits Lawrence strawberry farm

Lawrence farm may lose crop from late frost
Posted at 7:31 PM, Apr 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-02 20:57:11-04

LAWRENCE, Kan. — The owners of Wohletz Farm Fresh in Lawrence had a different Easter than most people in Kansas.

In the days that led up to the late April snow, Jerry and Jane Wohletz rolled out giant row covers to try and protect their strawberry crops.

Broccoli, onions, blueberries and two acres of strawberries make up the farm.

The Wohletz and one of their daughters spent hours back in September planting 34,000 strawberry plants. They should be ready for harvest in early May, but now the farmers wonder if they will withstand the cold.

“These buds are safe down to about to about 23 to 25 degrees,” explained Jerry Wohletz.

Temperatures within that range are forecast for this week, which weighs on Jane and Jerry as they stroll through the grounds, looking at months of hard work.

“Well, we may not be able to open up at all if we don't have a product,” said Jane Wohletz, as she thought of the worst possible scenario.

The Wohletz believe the tarp they added to the top of the strawberry plants will add at least 4 degrees, so they should be safe. They just expect to open up later in May.

That itself is problematic, since the red berries drive agritourism to their family farm, and bring about 1,600 people each Saturday.

“This is just part of raising strawberries in the Midwest,” said Wohletz.

Other plants like broccoli sell for about $3 a head at the Lawrence, Lenexa and Shawnee farmer’s markets.

The Wohletz believe they will not bring that value this year. They tell 41 Action News there is something in the flowering mechanism that makes the bloom small when the cold weather interferes.

“We are a lot more optimistic about the strawberries than we are the broccoli this year,” explained Wohletz, who said they planted about 2,500 of the green leafy plant back in March.

Blueberries are a heartier plant but more open buds may still be killed by the cold.

The couple believes it could lose $10,000 to $20,000 in supplies and hours worked. Depending on how the weather and crops hold out, they could lose more.

But both the Wohletz believe you have to have faith in the farm.

“That plant there has a lot of blooms. It’s going to produce a lot of berries,” said Jerry Wohletz.

Jane Wohletz laughed as she described her and her husband as eternal optimists.

“If not, there’s always next year,” said Jane Wohletz.

They may decide to replant the broccoli lines with sweet corn.