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'It's nerve-wracking': A dry winter is causing problems for Wisconsin's strawberry farmers

Strawberry plants need more precipitation and warmer temperatures.
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Posted at 10:02 AM, Feb 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-22 16:10:05-05

MAYVILLE, Wisc. — In our Two Americas series, we show you issues in Southeast Wisconsin you may not see every day.

We take you to Dodge County, where there is no time off for strawberry farmers - including in winter.

In Wisconsin, idyllic snow-capped fields are a regular sight during the winter.

So far this year, the ground has nothing but dry dirt.

That is frightening for Tim and Danielle Clark.

Each winter they hope to see layers of snow on their dormant strawberry patches.

"Every morning we look out the window, you can actually see the strawberry plant out of the straw and it's nerve-wracking," said Danielle.

The Clarks call the straw the plants' "winter coat." What they count on most this season is snowpack.

"We need a strong layer of snow and the right snow to add additional insulation," explains Tim.

Preferably for the Clarks, about ten inches of snow at a time.

That spurred Danielle to write this post on their Mayberry Farms Facebook Page, explaining why they are 'praying for more precipitation.'

"A lot of people were really supportive and said we understand, we’ve been telling other people we do need the snow," said Danielle.

Storm Team 4 Meteorologists at TMJ4 crunched the numbers. The Clarks' land is in a drought, short about 9 inches of precipitation over the last 12 months.

For Milwaukee, it is down even more, by about a foot.

Danielle explains what it means to see the plant exposed.

"The plant is not protected from the winter elements. If it is damaged, then coming out of the spring it's going to have a really hard time to set a nice flower, which will develop into that fruit," she said.

Which they experienced last year when 25% of their strawberry plants died.

"If it gets below 11 degrees Fahrenheit, with the air temperature that will cause damage," she added.

"We have to learn how to not only work with the weather events but also how we can recover from it," said Tim.

That includes diversifying their business to include a line of products Danielle makes in their home from their berries and goats milk.

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This story was first reported by Julia Fello at TMJ for in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.