Valdosta Daily Times

May 14, 2013

Southern Grace Farms’ U-Pick strawberry field out for the year

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Within the first month of planting this year’s strawberry crop, Southern Grace Farms noticed poor plant growth throughout their Valdosta field.

Southern Grace has long operated a U-Pick Strawberry Field off Bemiss Road, a popular activity for families.

“We spent the next several months trying to diagnose and treat the problem using fungicides, fertilizer, watering methods — all to no avail,” said Jennifer McMillan of Southern Grace Farms.

“After consulting with other strawberry growers and county agents,we found out we weren’t the only ones with this problem. After testing and comparison, it was learned that a plant virus, called SMYEV (Strawberry Mild Yellow Edge Virus) had infected the plants and the virus was traced back to the same nursery in the Great Valley area of Nova Scotia.”

At first, the plants were producing a fraction of what they normally do, leading to Southern Grace having to cancel the usual school field trips that come out to pick strawberries.

“We have schools that have been coming to us since we opened. One of the hardest calls I had to make was to cancel those field trips.”

The field rebounded for a few weeks, but then ultimately the plants ceased growth.

While the plants were sickly and their growth stunted by the SMYEV, it didn’t affect the berries as far as food safety is concerned.

“The most common question we answer now is will the virus make me sick, and of course the answer is no. We would never sell berries that would make you sick.”

While strawberries are out for this summer, Southern Grace’s blackberry rows are largely untouched with a large crop expected. Luckily, Southern Grace starts over every year with new plants, so next year, they’ll hopefully get to reap what they’re planning to sow.