Cool summer just right for Whatcom County berry farmers

LYNDEN — While many Whatcom County residents are wondering if warmer summer temperatures will ever arrive, local raspberry and blueberry farmers are loving the weather.

The raspberry harvest began in earnest earlier this week, and while the occasional downpour was a concern, for the most part it has been ideal weather not only for the workers but for the berries as well.

“It surprises me just how good the raspberries and the blueberries look right now,” said Jim Bjornstad, who operates Bjornstad Farms near Lynden. “The weather is really working with us so far.”

Local berry farmers were concerned about the harvest back in May as the area went through one of the coldest springs in recent memory. While June and early July didn’t warm up much, enough sunlight hit the area to help ripen the berries, forcing farmers to scramble because most of the harvest was ready at the same time.

At the Bjornstad farm, the raspberry harvest got going July 16, while the blueberry harvest began less than a week later on Friday.

For commercial raspberry farmers, the late start to the raspberry harvest meant trying to fit what’s normally six weeks of work into three or four weeks. To accomplish that, it has meant very long hours in the fields.

“It’s been an intense week,” said Angela Bosman, an employee at Whatcom Fruit farm, also near Lynden. “We didn’t see a gradual increase of berries being ready to be picked. When the rain stopped, it all happened at once.”

The Whatcom Fruit farm harvests about 200 acres of commercially grown raspberries, and Bosman said they hired extra high school students to help with the harvest. So far, they’ve been pleased with the quantity and quality of raspberries coming in.

“It’s been an unprecedented season (referring to the late start), but the quality has been really good,” Bosman said. “Now we just want more sun.”

Bjornstad agreed that more sun and temperatures between 65 and 72 would be ideal in the coming weeks, not just for the quality of the berries but also for the u-pick portion of his farm.

“When it’s cool, people don’t get chased away,” Bjornstad said.

For u-pickers, Bjornstad recommended visiting the farms within the next two weeks. It will be much like the strawberry season, he said, with the good berries disappearing quickly.

Raspberries are Whatcom County’s main berry crop, with 53.7 million pounds harvested last year. This area’s harvest represents about two-thirds of the entire U.S. raspberry production. The raspberry harvest alone creates about 6,000 seasonal jobs, according to Whatcom Farm Friends, a nonprofit organization in Lynden.

About 17 million pounds of blueberries were harvested in 2010, according to the Washington Blueberry Commission.

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