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Strawberries flourish in Louisiana’s DeSoto Parish

Strawberries now cash crop in Louisiana's DeSoto Parish. Also in the mix: peaches, pecans, apricots, nectarines, plumcots, cherries and apples. Growers use MarketMaker, an online database that allows buyers to find sellers.

Typically grown as a cash crop in southeast Louisiana, strawberries are flourishing in DeSoto Parish.

Nancy and John Myers, who operate Kingston Orchards, have found success with strawberries, thanks to help from Chuck Griffin, LSU AgCenter agent, and Jimmy Boudreaux, retired fruit and vegetable specialist.

“We learned how to make rows, do irrigation and were given spray schedules,” John Myers said.

Success with strawberries, along with an increase in peach production and additional products to sell, prompted the Myerses to open a store in early April. They previously sold from a 16-foot trailer.

This year, the Myerses entered into a joint venture with Chris Alexander of Hillcrest Blueberry Farm to grow strawberries on three acres at his location.

Once a cotton-producing area, DeSoto Parish has converted to dairy production, Griffin said. “We have now become a bedroom community, so more specialty crops are being grown. Because of the Haynesville shale, a lot of these people don’t have to work anymore, but they want to.”

The Myerses planted strawberries in October and began harvesting in April. Nancy Myers said the plants came from Canada because their usual supplier in California had a flood. “This is the same variety, but they were just healthier from the beginning,” she said of the Canadian plants.

Strawberries “is a high-risk crop,” Griffin said. “A lot of people wouldn’t plant it. It is labor intensive.

“An acre of strawberries costs about $10,000 to grow. If you lose a crop or don’t have a market for the highly perishable crop, a grower has a high risk of not recovering his or her investment.”

Kingston Orchards is splitting costs and profit and sharing labor with Alexander.

“The LSU AgCenter finds out the answer to our problems,” Nancy Myers said. “I am glad they have played a part in our success.”

The Myerses began their business with peach trees 11 years ago, trying strawberries off and on since 2008 by customer request. Since the joint venture with Alexander began, they added more peach trees where they had been growing strawberries.

LSU AgCenter horticulturist Charlie Graham helped plan the varieties in the peach orchard to give uniform production. The Myerses also added pecans, apricots, nectarines, plumcots, cherries and apples.

“I have helped with their expansion and general horticulture questions,” Graham said. He also has given instructions on pruning and will visit with the couple about grafting pecan trees later this spring.

Kingston Orchards also has enrolled in MarketMaker, an online database that allows buyers to find sellers with products that may be locally grown, in-season or organically produced or have other attributes.

A free Internet marketing tool offered by the LSU AgCenter for Louisiana agriculture-related businesses, MarketMaker provides an avenue to increase opportunities to buy and sell locally produced food.

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