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Strawberry farmer overcomes challenges from iffy weather; expects early picking season

Story By Morgan Johnson
Local News Published 06/10/2021 3:26PM
Merrill - "It was cold, like everybody knew it was in the forties during the day and it froze at 9:30 at night."

Mike Matushak has never dealt with more freezing nights before this year.

"When it freezes, then we get up in the middle of the night or whenever it happens and we throw water on them and it builds ice on the plants but it doesn't hurt them," said Matushak. "The heat from the water draws through the plant into the flower to protect the flower from the damage."

The last overnight frost was a week ago. After that, it's been a completely different story at Engelberry Farm in Merrill.

"I think it's getting to the point where we're catching up," said Matushak. "It was a little behind which everybody knows that the weather was kind of cool, but with this stretch of weather we've had the berries are forming well. The crop has kind of come out and it seems like it's going to be a good crop this year."

This season started slow because of the colder temperatures, but after a recent heat wave Matushak expects this year's picking season to be sooner than others. But adapting to weather patterns is nothing new to him.

Matushak isn't new to strawberry farming, either. He's owned Engelberry Farm for over 30 years with his wife.

"I picked berries in the morning and we got married in the afternoon," said Matushak. "So yeah, it's been a part of our lives for a long time."

That doesn't mean Matushak didn't have his fair share of struggles. Strawberry farming depends on a lot of factors.

"The crops are unpredictable," said Matushak. "You're at the mercy of a lot of things like the weather, to environmental issues, to birds, to any animals. Every farmer deals with that kind of a problem."

One thing Matushak can relate to with other industries is the worker shortage. "We're getting less and less people because it's hard," said Matushak. "I think there's just less and less people that are interested in growing food."

However the farm always has people come and pick strawberries, which Matushak predicts will be ripe in a week. Matushak doesn't do it for the money. He likes to see the end product of his hard work.

"I just enjoy watching the crop grow and doing what I have to do to make it so that it's a clean, good picking environment for people," said Matushak.
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