Corrine Bongiovanni, of Windham, picks strawberries at the Pineland Farms pick-your-own field in New Gloucester on Thursday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Better weather near the end of the strawberry season has helped Maine farms make up for some of the loss in production and pick-your-own sales they experienced early on. But overall, yields and business were down, which meant a year without at least one popular summer treat: strawberry ice cream from Red’s Dairy Freeze.

Addressing the frequent question from customers about when the strawberry soft serve was coming, the South Portland ice cream stand said in a Facebook post Tuesday, “we weren’t able to get the berries we need to be able to serve (it). … Here’s hoping next year’s crop allows for the return of a summer favorite!”

Strawberry farms around the state were concerned early in the season with the late freeze in May and wet weather throughout June. While some farmers expected lower yields and low turnouts for u-pick days, pickers have rebounded in the last few weeks of the season, and yields were higher than expected.

Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, one of the largest u-pick operations in the state, saw a decrease in strawberry yields compared to the record-setting harvest from last year, but the last two weeks have gotten them back on track with u-pick expectations.

“We have definitely been dealing with a lot of rain on a constant basis, and it’s definitely been slowing things down. Now we’ve hit our stride with strawberries here in the last week, and it’s been a bit of a struggle to keep everyone fulfilled with orders pretty much until this week,” Ariel Provencal, assistant farm manager at Pineland, said on Wednesday.

Pineland saw about a 20% decrease in strawberry yield this year compared to last, selling about 8,600, 8-quart containers this year compared to 10,600 last year. They had also seen about a $40,000 drop in pick-your-own sales compared to last year, as of Wednesday, but they planned to stay open for strawberry picking for another week if possible.


While there were initial concerns among many farmers about rot on the strawberries, Pineland avoided that problem by using fungicide early in the season, right when the rain started, to eliminate fungal matter that can collect because of the excess moisture.

Further north, Stevenson Strawberry Farm in Wayne saw a significant decrease in production early in the season and initially expected about a 40% decrease from last summer. However, recent dry, warm weather helped them make up lost revenue, and the farm is now estimating the loss closer to 25%.

Quart containers of strawberries picked by Corrine Bongiovanni, of Windham, at the Pineland Farms pick-your-own field in New Gloucester on Thursday. Many pick-your-own operations saw a decrease in sales this year. Ariel Provencher, assistant farm manager at Pineland Farms, says they have rebounded over the past two weeks and plan to stay open another week if possible. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“We were able to get the berries through (the rain) and get our other crops in, and now the crops have come on pretty good, the timing was pretty good. What the rain did was stop people from getting out to pick,” owner Tom Stevenson said. “We were loaded with berries, and no one was coming out to pick.”

Stevenson Farm had about a three-week pick-your-own season, opening on June 19 and closing Thursday. Stevenson relies on pick-your-own for almost all of its business and, now with the strawberry season drawing to a close, is looking forward to pumpkin season. However, with the rain, some fungi, including the seasonal Downy mildew, have come a bit earlier than they usually might, spreading into Maine at a faster rate.

“Generally we don’t see Downy until the end of the season. The fact that it’s coming in so early this year is a little spooky and will require a little extra work and attention,” Stevenson said.

While Stevenson has moved onto the next challenge, strawberry season is still going for at least a little while at some ice cream shops, if not Red’s, which didn’t return messages seeking information about where it usually gets its berries.

Kettle Cove Ice Cream and Shack in Cape Elizabeth had trouble getting strawberries early in the season from nearby Maxwell and Jordan’s Farms, so it relied on stock from Pineland early in the summer for its ice cream and strawberry sauce.

Eventually, it was able to get berries from Maxwell’s, but owner Mike Concannon thinks supplies will only last another week or so, which means an earlier end to the season than in years past.

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