The owner of a blueberry farm in Whately is fund-raising after a devastating frost destroyed almost all of the crop last week ahead of the harvest season, an unprecedented loss, he said.
Robert Sobieski, the owner of Sobieski’s River Valley Farm, said that about 75 to 80 percent of his blueberry bushes were destroyed amid below-freezing temperatures the morning of May 18. The crop was not insured, he added.
“Looking at the bushes that morning, I was in shock,” Sobieski, 45, said in a phone interview. “It was an entire year’s worth of work.”
Beginning in November, the farm’s 10,000 bushes are pruned and fertilized. The harvest season begins in the early weeks of June, and stretches until September, according to Sobieski. Most of the profit comes from wholesale, supplying berries to markets across Massachusetts, but the farm also offers a pick-your-own program and a fruit stand.
The blast of below-freezing weather occurred when the bushes were in their most vulnerable state, just as green berries began to sprout. The temperature had dropped to a frigid 29 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
“If this event happened two weeks ago, they would have mostly survived,” Sobieski said. Multiple farms in the area experienced some amount of crop loss, he added.
The family-run farm, established 46 years ago, covers over 20 acres of land. Though Sobieski has never seen such a drastic freeze, farming has become more unpredictable over the past decade, he said. From droughts, to warmer winters, to eroding topsoil, the effects of climate change are becoming more apparent, and an increasing number of farmers in New England are struggling to adapt.
“With the milder winters that we’ve been having, I’ve noticed that the blueberry bushes are coming out of dormancy about two to four weeks earlier,” Sobieski said. “The spring growth starts early ... when we can still get these large temperature fluctuations.”
Sobieski launched a fund-raiser Tuesday, which will go toward maintaining daily farm operations. He also plans to invest in equipment, including heaters and overhead irrigation, to prevent future frosts. So far, it has raised over $7,000.
“Every single day of our lives are spent in the fields, tending to the blueberry bushes, making sure they’re healthy just to ensure a bountiful crop in the summertime,” Sobieski said. “It’s in our blood. We feel a connection with the plants.”
Kate Armanini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KateArmanini.