MARQUETTE - July usually brings with it the start of picking season for strawberry farmers across the Upper Peninsula, but this year, July is marking the season's end.
Some pick-your-own strawberry farms in the area have already closed up shop for the year, the season having started weeks earlier than normal. Some have been forced to reduce the amount of public self-picking time to accommodate a smaller crop.
Gary Hughes of Hughes Farms in Calumet has been unable to offer any open self-picking in his strawberry fields this year.
"I've been doing it (growing strawberries) for 30 years. It's the worst season we've ever had. That says it all," Hughes said. "We have not had a good season at all, between the weather and the deer, it just devastated us."
Because his strawberry crop was so small this year, Hughes has only been able to allow people to pick berries by appointment, rather than having an open schedule, as he usually does.
"Right now, we've got four pages of people and no berries left, so a lot of unhappy people and a lot of unhappy farmer on this end," Hughes said.
The same story can be heard in Marquette as well. Natasha Lantz, Marquette Food Co-op outreach coordinator, said farmers have been less than pleased with their strawberries.
"It has been a difficult strawberry year this year," Lantz said. "The berries from our local farmers, in their words, have not been of the quality that they are accustomed to. Berries have tended to be smaller and not as plentiful in the fields, which makes picking more time consuming and may also result in higher prices locally."
Lantz and Hughes both blamed the bad season on erratic weather. Hughes said deer have also had a hand in reducing his strawberry crop, so much so that he has decided not to grow strawberries next year at all.
Phone calls to several area strawberry farmers will yield messages of how short the season really was this year.
Pellegrini Strawberries, near Escanaba, has already closed its doors to pickers this year, though another Pellegrini farm in Vulcan still has a few strawberries left.
Ostanek's Strawberries, a pick-your-own strawberry farm just east of Trenary, is closed through Thursday for ripening, but information on the condition of the berries is not optimistic.
"This is going to be a short strawberry season this year," said a pre-recorded message at the farm. "Weather conditions in the past year were less than ideal. It's been tough picking this year, but those that came the first week got the best picking.
"There's not many green ones left, so we don't expect it to be very good picking, but there will be some berries in the field," the message went on to say. "If we get another big crowd, it won't last long."