AGRIBUSINESS: Pick-Your-Own Berry Farm Fights The Elements

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The effects of last year's drought on the corn and soybean harvest has been well documented on the Agribusiness Report. But depending on the crop grown, the drought may not have been the main threat last year anyway.

Judy Henry runs Berry Patch Farm in Nevada, near Ames, and grows pick-your-own fruits with her husband Dean. They felt the full brunt of the April cold snap. The freeze was particularly effective after the mild winter, which encouraged many plants to blossom early.

"We had a crop on most everything except apples and cherries," Henry says, "but people were able to come out and pick, and I don't think we had as many blueberries or as many strawberries as would have been in a normal year."

The idea of risk management in agriculture can take a variety of forms, from complex chemical pesticides and herbicides to something as simple as growing several different crops to spread risk.

The crops that Judy and Dean grow at Berry Patch Farm require even more judicious treatments than corn and soybeans do, in order to ward off insects and weeds. Crops like blueberries also need to be hardy enough to survive the winter, and Henry points out that it's not just people stopping by to pick their own blueberries.

"You also have to think of all of the different animals that like to eat your fruit," she says. "The birds, the deer, the turkey, whatever is out here likes whatever we grow. We do have some hunters who help out in that way, but not a lot.

One novel risk management tool at Berry Patch Farm are raptor perches. Judy and Dean put up several of them around their land to encourage hawks to pick off small rodents in the fields.

Henry adds that problems with deer eating the fruit may warrant a fence at a later date, but that it's too expensive now at six dollars per foot. Berry Patch Farm sits on 140 acres, 100 acres of which is forest.