Strawberry fields not forever after freezes

(WVUE) - On the North Shore, strawberry farmers should've been picking fruit by now, but the freeze changed all that.

For more than 100 years, five generations of the Threeton family has grown strawberries in the fields around Springfield.

"I was raised in that house over yonder...and we've been picking and farming since I was big enough to get around," said 76-year old Alfred Threeton, who  passed the tradition down to his son, Lennie.

"It means, I guess, life. That's what we're used to doing. If we didn't have this, what would you have? A nursing home," said Alfred.

"I wouldn't have it no other way. My kids come out here - I love it," said Lennie.

But that tradition is getting tough to hold on to, especially after  a brutal winter.

"Right now, we at stop," said Alfred.

The Threetons should have been harvesting berries by now, but snow, ice and freezing temperatures in the low teens took a toll on the plants, the blossoms, and the young fruit. Weather is always a factor but this winter was unlike any other

"This winter has been the coldest I've seen in my time," said 71-year-old Lloyd Threeton, Bennie's uncle.

With things like covers and pesticides, farmers like the Threetons have more tools at their disposal to try and  grow a good crop, but the challenges of strawberry farming never end. Pests are still a problem in spite of a variety of new strawberry strains, with names like Florida Sensation or Camino Real.

"These are supposed to be new and improved, but some of the olders might have been better," said Lennie.

In spite of the rough winter, the Threetons believe the  season could wind up ok.

"It's starting to turn around," said Lennie.

The kids help out, but it's not like the old days.

"They like picking, but they don't like to do it all day," said Lennie.

And some worry that this five-generation tradition may be winding  down.

"My grandkids - you might want to say no," said Lloyd.

As they clip the dead leaves to make the rest of the plant stronger, they're still hopeful for a decent crop come springtime

"We can do it. It's just going to take weather to  cooperate with us," said Lloyd.

Another freeze or too much rain could ruin a crop that's fighting to make it to harvest.

Lennie is this year's strawberry festival king in Ponchatoula, which will be held April 13-15. His father was king in the early 1980s. They are confident that if all goes well, there will be plenty of sweet Louisiana strawberries for this year's festival.

Copyright 2018 WVUE. All rights reserved.