Farmer says ‘too much’ rain damaged strawberries
By August, Kula Country Farms’ strawberries should be back in a store near you.
Owner and operator Chauncy Monden said there has been “too much” rain so far this year in his Kula fields, ruining more than 50 percent of his strawberry crop.
But farmworkers just planted a new crop that should mature in a month and a half.
“Hopefully that will come out,” Monden said.
In his approximately 17 years of full-time farming, Monden said this has been the worst year for his strawberries.
Yet, he’s able to chuckle.
“Cannot help,” he said. “Farming, you cannot control the weather.”
Monden said that from December through May there have been only about 10 days when there was no rain in his fields. His crops started going bad in March.
According to the National Weather Service’s rainfall summary for May, most Maui County rain gauges reported near- to above-average monthly rainfall.
At the Kula Branch Station rain gauge, 1.73 inches fell in May, or 130 percent of the average of 1.33 inches. At the Kula gauge, 2.67 inches was recorded, or 114 percent of the average of 2.35 inches.
Although it has been wet in Upcountry, not all farmers incurred problems with their strawberries.
At Coca Farm in Kula, the rain “was really minor,” but the farmers were still able to get their organic strawberries to the farmers market, an official said.
“This season was pretty good. It was normal,” the official said.
The state Department of Agriculture said statistics are not kept on strawberry farming in Hawaii because it’s done on such a small scale. Aside from Upcountry farms, strawberries also are grown commercially on the Big Island.
While other Upcountry farmers may also grow strawberries, Monden devotes most of his cultivation to strawberries, his No. 1 crop.
Although he couldn’t quite quantify how many strawberries he has lost, he said it “was plenty.”
The loss has hit the farm hard enough that Monden estimates it will take him two or three years to make up his losses.
Monden said that as it rains the strawberries can get waterlogged, and they’re more susceptible to moisture-loving bacteria and fungi.
Monden said he has been able to pick only enough strawberries to fill his stand along Kula Highway.
The Kula Country Farms strawberries, usually abundant in local markets, have been absent in recent months.
While strawberries are his main crop, Monden also grows Kula onions. These also can be fickle, although Monden said the onion crop fared better than his strawberries. And he grows other fruits and vegetables.
The farm is famous for its fall pumpkin patch that draws keiki and families from across Maui to pick their own pumpkins.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.