With decent weather and an early harvest this past summer, Whatcom County raspberry farmers were expecting solid numbers. Instead, this harvest smashed the record.
75 million pounds Amount of raspberries harvested by Whatcom County farmers in 2016, a new record
Farmers harvested nearly 75.5 million pounds of raspberries this summer in Whatcom County, according to data from the Washington Red Raspberry Commission. That’s nearly 7 million pounds more than the previous record set in 2014. It’s also a whopping 25 million pounds more than last year.
The total came as a surprise to Henry Bierlink, executive director at the raspberry commission. He was guessing it would be around 69 million pounds.
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Raspberries are a big part of Whatcom’s agricultural industry and the local harvest represents most of the U.S. crop. According to the commission, around 95 percent of the nation’s raspberry crop is from Washington state. This year 96 percent of Washington’s crop came from Whatcom County.
Bierlink believes a variety of factors led to the large harvest. This summer’s weather was good for growing and harvesting raspberries. The weather was mild in the spring, encouraging growth and leading to an early harvest. During the harvest there were no significant weather events to throw the harvesters off track like a hailstorm damaging the berries or a heat wave melting the berries before they were picked.
Other factors include increased acreage and extensive remodeling on some of the fields. Several new varieties also appeared to do well this year, Bierlink said.
Weather was the main thing farmers were talking about to Gary Vis, executive director at the Lynden Chamber of Commerce, saying that it was a nice balance between sunny days and cool days.
He thinks the early harvest also helped add berries to this year’s total. With the early start, harvest machines were able to make more passes through the fields.
“Having a fruit that holds for a few days really helps,” he said.
So far prices for this year’s crop are down from recent years, possibly because there is much more supply this year, Bierlink said.
Even with the lower prices, it is a big rebound from the small harvest in 2015. Last year weather was a factor as warm, dry conditions kept the berries from getting enough water. The irrigation systems in place were not able to keep up with evaporation under such conditions, Bierlink said last year.
Having a big year helps the economy throughout Whatcom County, Vis said. Along with having more workers getting paid and then spending it in the community, farmers are also able to invest in equipment.
“They always need to replace something,” Vis said with a laugh.