Monday, June 23, 2008

Game's On

It's been a long while since I've posted, and for good reason. It has been a lousy spring here in the Pacific Northwest, cold and wet. It has been, without a doubt, the most challenging spring I've ever farmed. Just about the time I'd get the water drained from the berry field and the ground starting to dry, another deluge would blow through, pounding the soil with rain and sending the temperatures 15 degrees or more below normal. In a year where diesel was going through the roof, I just didn't need a season where I had to keep the tractors running to keep the berries from rotting.

Still, you have to keep at it. Up and down the rows, inching along with any number of combos of sweeps, Lewiston hoes, shanks, you name it, I drug it along the rows wringing out the soggy ground. So far, we've hit the plants twice with spray, keeping the mildew at bay. No, we definitely do not farm "organically". I want a paying crop.

Safe on high hills thankfully, the plants did not give up. The blossoms popped, the berries formed. A good 2 - 3 weeks later than usual, but the berries did come.

It is the World Poker Tour, but for real. With the crop coming, our money on the table, the processors began their yearly two step. A few underhanded moves, sorry attempts at price fixing were found out. Never did we directly accuse anyone of such things...that's not how the game is played. Still, we made sure THEY knew, WE knew. As the berries formed up and began to show red, a low ball offer was made. We said nothing. I just kept tilling the rows, fluffing up the ground to warm it up and bring the crop on.

The sun finally came out this past week and shades of green and white began to glow redder by the day. The processors kept their cards close to the table waiting for the flop. It came last week when the Oregon growers settled for $.57/pound, a few cents under last year. (Too bad our costs aren't a few cents under last year!) We knew we were holding a good hand, the fruit was developing nicely. Hard work kept the green rot away. The berries began to shape up beautifully. Although our local processor maintained their poker faces, their actions gave them away. I kept seeing their fieldmen driving by looking over the field. For being uninterested, they were obviously very interested.

This week they finally made an offer on our crop. A fair offer, the same as Oregon. The big question was dockage. We hammered that out tonight. They could not argue our quality, we definitely could argue their dockage rate. We went all in and called them at the big table. They cut their normal dockage in half...we settled.

Berry farming is not for the weak of heart...

I think back to this winter, and the hours spent on the #2 shovel keeping the water off the field. Then there were the sore back hours spent pulling weeds, the hours of monotony going back and forth up down those rows in first gear. It's all part of this game, this version of the World Poker Tour.

So now is the easy part; waiting another week or so for the Mother Nature to finish her work so we can turn the pickers loose on the field. The poker game is the fun game's on! I'm typing this there is juice from bright red Puget Reliance dripping off my chin and there is whipped cream and crumbs of a fresh baked Bisquick shortcake hanging from my moustache.

Tomorrow morining I'll be up a 4:30 to personally pick the first flats destined for a steakhouse in Montana..a little pet project of mine.

Oh yeah...the game's on....

No more California crap. It's great to have REAL strawberries.


wayne said...


I don't know if you want to "tip your hand", but I gotta ask: do you sell your berries to Sakuma Bros.?

Y'see, I work for the White Satin Sugar distribution plant here in Portland, and I just spent the last two weeks workin' my ass off loading bulk trucks to keep Sakuma supplied with +40 granulated while they were packing.

Wayne Depperman

Sasquatch said...

Great berry story Martin...I learn something new every time I drop by. And ain't that the truth about those mutant California berries...WTF are they putting on those things? They're big as plums and have huge empty white insides! Gimme good ol' Skagit Valley plumpers that are thick and juicy and red through and through...mmmmmmm!

By the way...what is "dockage"?

Good readin' Martin...


Martin Burwash said...

Small world, Wayne. Yes indeed, we did ship to Sakuma's. And Tom, your assesment of Cali berries is dead on.

Dockage is the percent of "unuseable" fruit. We kept ours below 5%.

Martin Burwash

wayne said...

Small world, indeed!
What are the chances that two medium format shooting, black & white devoted railroad photographers are going to "cross paths" in the same link in the food chain?!