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U-pick farms hit hard by rains
Berries take severe beating
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Blueberries are ripe at Cool Springs Blueberry Farm and Nursery on Saturday. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Most summer days, u-pick farms are well harvested by families and tourists looking for a freshly picked berry treat. This year, however, heavy rainfall has caused a few complications for farmers and pickers in the Hall County area.

According to the National Weather Service, preliminary climate data suggests 53.01 total inches of rain has fallen in Gainesville from Jan. 1 to July 30.

July had been the wettest month of the year with 14.21 inches of rain reported at the Gainesville Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport and 13.58 inches at another observation station in the area. 

Terry Roberts, owner of Roberts Family Blueberry Farm in Clermont, said the rain has given his berries a beating. The combination of wind and rain in a thunderstorm often knock ripe berries onto the ground before people can pick them. The berries still on the bush are subject to other effects.

“There’s just way too much (water),” Roberts said. “The berries are getting overwatered and it’s causing them to either just fall off the bush before they get to the ripe stage or they’re cracking open.”

Roberts said the season will likely be a few weeks shorter than previous years because of the unusual weather. Typically, a crop of blueberries will ripen through August and into the first week or two of September. 

“The season is going to cut off early this year,” Roberts said. “We’re going to have berries until about the first or second week of August and then they’ll be gone.”

Mark Ransbotham, owner of Cool Springs Blueberry Farm in Gainesville, said the weather prevented his blueberries and blackberries from ripening on time. Fortunately, Ransbotham planted several early blooming varieties three years ago which he said “saved us.” 

Ransbotham said he doesn’t think the rain hurts the crops as much as cloudy days, but in his experience this summer’s yields hasn’t been bad.

“We’re probably in the middle of our harvest season right now,” he said. “We’ll probably go all the way through August and the first week of September. So it’s been a good year for us, and excellent year quantity-wise.”

Even if the lack of sunshine did not hurt the berries, it prevented some would-be pickers from venturing out to the farms.

Ransbotham said not much on his farm goes to waste. He will sell overripe berries for half price or use them to “make a killer cobbler.”

Roberts said some of the visitors who have picked this summer found a silver lining to an otherwise cloudy summer.

“It’s kind of treasure hunt when you go out there now,” Roberts said. “We’ve had families that have come and say it’s been a lot of fun because it’s not just an abundance of berries right there. It’s more of a treasure hunt, you have to hunt through to find the good ones.”

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