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article imageFlorida farmers destroy strawberry crops, create a pickle

By Lynn Herrmann     Mar 28, 2010 in Food
Tampa - Florida strawberry farmers have taken low market prices into their own hands by destroying the plants and letting fruit rot.
Low market prices for the fruit have caused farmers to decide it is cheaper to pay farm laborers to destroy the crops rather than ship the fruit to market.
"We've got more berries than we know what to do with," said Matt Parke, according to an ABC News report.
While the farmers feel justified in their behavior, many Florida residents are outraged over destruction of the fruit. From online to soup lines, people are expressing their displeasure. "There is no way else you can put it into words other than they are selfish people," Freddy Conyers said from a Miami soup kitchen.
“Senseless for me, senseless,” added Timothy Strutz in the ABC report.
Online comments are more severe. “It should be a crime to plow food under.” Another comment was equally as blunt: “I’ll never buy another Florida strawberry again, this is nothing short of sheer greed.”
Other farmers in the area have made the same decision: destroying the plants and leaving the fruit to rot in the field.
A normal year will provide farmers with a market price near $1 per pound for the berries. Thanks to the freezing weather the state suffered this past January, normal staggered planting dates were disrupted, causing all the fruit to ripen at the same time, currently flooding the market.
Due to the steep drop in market prices, strawberries now average around 25 cents per pound.
"We still owe a lot of money on this year's crop," said Carl Grooms of Fancy Farms Inc. "And we needed to pick fresh fruit at a profit, and that's not occurring right now," he added, according to a report in the Tampa Tribune.
Adding to the farmers’ woes are area residents' complaints about sinkholes that developed after the farmers drained groundwater supplies during January in attempts to keep the strawberry plants from freezing.
Emily Cooper, of Plant City, said: “"I went three weeks without water, and I have sinkholes all around my home. I can barely get out of my neighborhood."
Some homes in the community had to be condemned after suffering structural damage due to the sinkholes.
Cooper, a life-long resident of the community is not surprised over the current situation. The farmers have not compensated residents for damages. "Nobody wants them," she said. "A lot of people in this community are fed up with them … I'm not letting another strawberry in my home."
Two factors prevent farmers from allowing people to come pick the fruit in an effort to save the crops. First, liability issues resulting in legal fees if someone is injured while on their properties. Second, some farmers have already begun planting vegetable crops between the rows of strawberries.
Parke, of Parksdale Farms, Inc. near Plant City said: "You just can't have people tromping around there and pulling up that young pickle plant."
UPDATE: An update on this story can be found here.
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