Growers attack TV report critical of Florida strawberry harvesting

03/31/2010 05:00:43 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

PLANT CITY, Fla. — Florida’s strawberry industry is responding to a national television news report they say unfavorably portrayed growers.

In a March 30 letter to ABC World News emailed to growers and media people, Ted Campbell, executive director of the Dover-based Florida Strawberry Growers Association, attacked the network’s March 27 news report that showed how many growers were destroying their strawberry fields and implied that people in big city homeless shelters could have eaten the berries.

In mid- to late March, a flush of berries suddenly became ready for harvest after cold weather following January’s successive nights of freezing and February’s cooler than normal growing conditions.

The berries, however, hit the market when Florida growers typically begin ending their season and when retailers shift to California supplies.

Prices have also fallen to $6.90-7.90 for flats of eight 1-pound clamshells, accord-ing to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The “Wasting strawberry fields” report failed to place the situation in context and portrayed growers as “a bunch of greedy idiots insensitive to people in need” while growers themselves are enduring record losses, Campbell said.

“As the cost of harvesting is probably somewhere about $5, the fact is, it costs you more to harvest now than you could possibly get in selling that product,” Campbell said. “We are in a situation where the more you pick, the more money you will lose. Some growers doing that for their steady customers and are having their harvest teams go out and make sure they’re packing quality fruit. To expect people to continue to go out and harvest in a losing situation during a year where everyone has lost money is unreasonable.”

Campbell said the report hardly noted how many growers have opened their fields to the public and to charitable groups for free you-pick operations.

He said the association and the area chamber of commerce received many nasty e-mails after the report’s airing.

After explaining the situation, Campbell said many writers apologized and said they hadn’t heard the whole story.



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