The spring frosts haven’t damaged the strawberry crop in Zug, but have postponed the start of the season until the beginning of June. The customers of the farm shops are eagerly waiting for the red fruits.
Putting up with the whims of the weather and confronting them with skill is part of the business of the local farmers. They are extremely adept at it. "I do have early strawberry varieties, because I also want to harvest as early as possible. However, in order to prevent frost damage, I don’t additionally try to force the ripening process," explains fruit farmer Reto Zimmermann from the Plegihof in Rotkreuz.
Because the sooner the fruits bloom, the more vulnerable they are to frost. So he places the crops under the tunnel ceilings at a fairly late date, and, instead, protects them from frost with a fleece blanket that he spreads directly over the plants.
"I have had no crop losses this year, despite the persistent frost in the spring."
Beautiful, strong fruits
But the customers are a little impatient, and long for fresh local strawberries. "Some people drive in by car to see whether our announcement board is already outside." But it's worth waiting, the 42-year-old is sure: "The late strawberries are usually beautiful and strong."
Fruit farmer Reto Zimmermann in his strawberry field.
Photo: Jan Pegoraro (Rotkreuz, 12 May 2021)
Strawberry cultivation has been a tradition on the Plegihof for 50 years. "My parents started when the Migros was looking for strawberry producers." The father-of-two has been in business for 20 years. In addition to the berries, he also grows cherries, plums and apples, and carries out livestock farming. He is happy about his various mainstays: "When I completed my agricultural training from 1995 to 1998, no specialisations were promoted. Due to the increasingly extreme weather conditions of recent years, diversification is recommended again today."
It still needs patience while the strawberries to ripe
You can't pick yourself at Zimmermann’s anymore. But in the farm shop, whose assortment is 95% from our own production, the freshly harvested, juicy red fruits are available for customers from the end of May.
Disappointed Mother's Day customers
Philipp Hotz also receives many requests for strawberries every day. "Especially on Mother's Day: many customers would have liked to have had some on the breakfast table," he says. The farmer from Baar has so-called ‘table crops’, which are grown 1.4 metres above the ground in containers. This has decisive advantages, especially for the harvest, because the harvester does not have to work in a bent posture. The fruit grower deliberately does not protect his crops with closed tunnels, which stimulate the ripening process, but only by open systems that keep out the rain. "If you don't produce in the tunnel, the season always starts a little later," says Philipp Hotz. "Nature sets the pace." The start this year has been postponed again by about ten days.
"I expect sales to start at the beginning of June."
Customer can pick the fruit themselves at the Hotzenhof. "But not right at the beginning of the season," he adds, “This should be possible in the course of June."
Frost causes damage to fruit crops
There was a frost throughout Switzerland on the night of 6 April, with low temperatures of minus one to minus eight degrees. Air temperatures also dropped to minus six degrees in the following nights. A survey conducted by the Swiss Fruit Association in the main fruit regions shows that the frost has caused damage to apricots, cherries, early plums, pears and apples. "I expect a 70 to 80% loss in the cherry harvest," laments fruit farmer Reto Zimmermann from Rotkreuz. The flowering had already begun when the frost came. "I tried to protect the crops with frost candles, but the wind was so strong that it didn't do much good." He expects losses of 20 to 40% for the early plum varieties and an estimated 10 to 20% for apples.
Thomas Rickenbacher, president of the Zug Farmers' Association, emphasises that it’s not yet possible to estimate the exact impact of the frosty nights for the canton of Zug. "Fruit crops will still need a lot of support to thrive. This will require a lot of patience and time." The hail and frost insurance company mention losses in the millions, adds Rickenbacher. "There has certainly also been damage in Zug. It will soon be clear how big the loss will be." The alpine communities were certainly more affected than those in the valley, and the more sensitive stone fruit suffered more than the core fruit.