PIKETON, Ohio - Berry lovers who've waited all year for the sweet, juicy goodness of red and black raspberries should head out to their local farmers' markets and pick-your-own operations as early in the season as possible.
Sandy Kuhn, an Ohio State University berry coordinator with the South Centers at Piketon, said that a spell of late spring cold temperatures has limited production of the crop from southern to central Ohio. The frost damage combined with heavy consumer demand means that red and black raspberries will be in short supply this growing season.
"In southern Ohio, berries will be tougher to find because of the late frost," said Kuhn. "In some places, up to 50 percent of the crop was damaged in some of the early varieties. We expect production numbers to be much lower this year than they were last year." In 2001, red and black raspberry producers harvested over 300,000 pounds of berries.
Early-season varieties such as Bristol and Jewel were hardest hit from the surprise weather conditions in mid-May that saw temperatures plummet to freezing or below over several evenings.
"Growers didn't even know they had that much frost damage until they went to harvest," said Kuhn. "With strawberries, the blooms turn black when they get frost damage. But with red and black raspberries, it's harder to detect because the blooms turn dark naturally before the plants produce fruit."
Red and black raspberry producers have begun harvesting throughout southern and central Ohio and also in some northern counties. The season will last for another three to four weeks.
Kuhn said that late-season varieties, such as Mac Black, do not appear to have suffered any frost damage, but those consumers who want the early-season varieties should be shopping for them now.
"Some producers won't have as much of a crop to offer this year. A grower from Amanda, Ohio told me that she sold out at the Lancaster Farmer's Market within two hours," said Kuhn. "It'll be slim pickings for those varieties that were affected by the frost, so people should get out and get them now."
Approximately 360 acres of black, summer red and fall red raspberries are grown throughout Ohio with that number rising steadily to accommodate consumer demand for the specialty crops.
Heavy demand is due largely in part to the health benefits that consuming berries is thought to bring. Red and black raspberries contain high levels of antioxidants that fight off cancer. The fruits' oxygen radical absorption capacity (ORAC) values - a method of measuring the level of antioxidants present - are eight to 25 times higher than most other fruits, such as apples, bananas, oranges, and even blueberries and strawberries.
In addition, red and black raspberries are high in fiber, iron, calcium, beta-carotene and vitamins A, E, and C and contain compounds like ellagic acid that have anticarcinogenic properties.
Scientists and health-organization experts recommend consumers follow the "Five a Day" program of eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day in order to take advantage of the health benefits. A serving size is equivalent to half a cup.
To locate farmers' markets or pick-your-own operations in your area, contact Kuhn at (800) 297-2072 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact your local Ohio State Extension office. An Ohio Farmers Market Directory of statewide farm markets, farmers' markets, pick-your-own operations and roadside markets is available through the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Contact ODA at (800) IM-PROUD or e-mail email@example.com for a copy of the publication.