Andy Nelson, Markets Editor
Andy Nelson, Markets Editor

Strawberries are one of my “afternoon crops.”

I’m not talking about the time of day I prefer to eat them. By “afternoon crops” I mean those crops I cover for The Packer that I typically can’t get much work done on until the afternoon.

Yes, Florida and Mexico have their claims on the strawberry deal at certain times of the year, but for the most part, strawberries are one of the more California-centric commodities we write about.

I learned long ago that mornings aren’t the best time to call big grower-shippers on thWest Coast.

They’re Californians, so chances are they’re not going to curse or even bark at you, but mornings are for selling, and if you want an interview, it’s best to wait.

Mornings of course yield to lunch hours, and with the two-hour time difference between Kansas and California, I’m often looking at 3:15 my time before I start pounding the phones in the 831 and the 805 area codes.

It’s not the best produce beat for a Midwesterner, particularly if the story’s due at 5 that same day.

It was with great joy, then, that I read about the coming strawberry renaissance in more time zone-friendly places like North Carolina, Texas, my own Kansas and my native Nebraska.

Thanks goes to Wal-Mart’s big push on locally/sustainably grown.

The University of Arkansas announced recently that the Walmart Foundation will fund $2.64 million worth of research into boosting local and regional strawberry production.

The grants will be administered through the university’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability.

So where is the money going? Some goes to North Carolina State University, to study soil management practices; to the University of Arizona, to help with off-season production of hydroponic strawberries in the Southwest; to Tennessee State University, for developing logistics for pathogen-free organic strawberries in Tennessee.

My own favorites, of course, concern funding for the cultivation of strawberries in Kansas and Nebraska.

The stated goal for a study to be done at Kansas State University, “Development and Adoption of Annual, Plasticulture Strawberry Production in the Great Plains,” is to “design a production system that is less prone to crop failures, provides a more stable income stream, and encourages new growers to enter the industry.”

To me, the way this is worded makes it sound like it’s a noble attempt to aid a once-flourishing industry and to provide hope for its stricken producers.

Then you realize ... we’re talking about growing strawberries in Kansas.

This ain’t wheat, folks.

You don’t have to be much smarter than a produce journalist to realize that, yep, strawberries grown in Kansas are indeed “prone to crop failures” and that the solution to that intractable problem might be to, um, I don’t know — grow something else?

But it’s my alma mater, the University of Nebraska, that takes the cake in the Other Than California Wal-Mart Largesse Strawberry Sweepstakes.

For those of you like me who are geographically challenged, I will remind you that Nebraska is north of Kansas.

If strawberries in Kansas are “prone to crop failures,” imagine what odds Nebraska strawberries are up against?

And yet, here is the hopeful title of NU’s Wal-Mart-funded project: “Winter Production of Nebraska Strawberries: An Idea Whose Time Has Come.”

I ... I ... none of my attempts at wit can improve on that, so I’ll let it stand as is.

I know what some of you are thinking. Fruits and vegetables have been made to flourish in some unlikely places. Italian immigrants had a vision of growing tomatoes and other vegetables in Ontario, and, even with the costs of growing them indoors, they’ve succeeded rather nicely.

I wish the greenhouse strawberry industry in Nebraska, Kansas and other U.S. states the best of luck. It would make my job a lot easier, calling sources in the Central and Eastern time zones instead of in faraway California.

But I won’t be surprised if, when the history of Locally Grown Mania is written, this goes down as one of the funnier footnotes.

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