Farmers say winter delayed, but didn’t harm, most crops


CHASSELL – The greens in Ben Niemela’s strawberry fields are finally turning into reds.

Niemela, owner of Niemela Family Growers outside of Chassell, said his strawberries, although delayed by a late winter, are coming around. A growing number of plump strawberries in his fields Wednesday provided evidence for that.

“The warm weather should bring them out now,” he said. “Next week we should have lots of berries, and the week after that we should have full production. Everything should be ripe then.”

Niemela and other farmers in the area said although the long winter had shifted the season, their crop wouldn’t be otherwise affected.

The average year’s berry season runs about from June 15 to July 15, Niemela said. This year’s late start comes after after an abnormally early season sparked by 2012’s warm spring.

“Last year on the Fourth of July, we were just about done with berries, and this year we haven’t really started yet,” he said.

Niemela also makes maple syrup. He said this year’s was about a month late, but also turned out well. However, the snow did create another limiting factor.

“I couldn’t get out to the woodpile,” he said.

Henry Ohtonen’s farm in Chassell should be open for strawberry picking by Monday at the latest, said his wife, Cathy Ohtonen. And the berries are as good as usual.

“There’s a lot of beautiful berries out there,” she said.

In 40-plus year of growing strawberries, last year was the first they’ve seen berries in the middle of June, she said. In contrast, this year’s start date is closer to normal.

The extra weeks of snow, while pushing the start of the season back, also gave the plants needed insulation, she said.

“If you don’t get snow cover, you get frost into the ground and it kills the plants,” she said.

Gary Palosaari, who makes hay at his dairy farm in Chassell, said he’s about two weeks behind schedule. The biggest delay was a wet and snowy April, he said.

“April was so cold and wet,” he said. “I’ve been farming here since ’92, so I’ve got 21 years on my own, and I’ve never seen it this late. It’s very abnormal.”

However, he said, they should still be able to get two crops out of the season if there’s a late fall.

Bill Baccus of Lake Linden said cool weather had slowed the maturity of his hay, which he’s just starting to cut now. But the extra ground moisture directly correlates to the hay yield, he said.

“As a matter of fact, it’s one of the most awesome hay crops I’ve ever had,” he said.

As a downside – “because I know you media people like the negative” – he cited the small grains he also grows, which are yellowing from the extra moisture.

“I can’t remember if they pull out of it or not, but time will tell,” he said.