There is a spring in Randy DeWitt's step because his strawberry patch is ready for pickers -- six weeks ahead of schedule.
"Strawberries don't come in until mid-March to early April," said DeWitt, who opened his "u-pick it" strawberry patch in Morven, about 15 miles northwest of Valdosta, last week. "But they're ready to go now. It's great."
Agriculture experts say the state's strawberry growers -- from rural Atlanta to Statesboro -- have benefited from El Nino, the warm water mass in the Pacific Ocean that has meant a mild winter in Georgia.
The strawberry season is in full bloom and is expected to stretch from its typical three months to five months this year.
"It's going to be a bumper crop in Georgia this year," said Gerard Krewer, an agriculture scientist at the University of Georgia.
Although the state is known more for the commercial sale of such fruits as peaches, muscadine grapes and blueberries than for strawberries, Krewer said the early crop could bring a nice profit.
That's because crops in Florida and California were destroyed by torrential rain, floods and freezes, he said.
But Krewer said that the big strawberry states will be back next year.
"I wouldn't advise everybody to put too much into the strawberry crop just yet," he said.
Since DeWitt opened his strawberry patch last Wednesday, he's seen a steady stream of people paying $1 to pick a pound of vine-ripe berries. That's the same price supermarkets charge for strawberries that have been picked early and may not taste as good, Krewer said.
"Some people have come as far away as Jacksonville, Fla., for strawberries," DeWitt said.
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