California berry landscape changes - The Packer

California berry landscape changes

08/27/2013 09:20:00 AM
Mike Hornick

California strawberry volumes paced well ahead of last year as August began. Blueberry production had already moved on to other states, but raspberries were expected to maintain high yields for a few more weeks.

“Strawberries are still hot and competing with the stone fruit that comes out in summer and fall,” Kyla Garnett, Salinas, Calif.-based marketing manager for Estero, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, said July 26.

“We’ve reached our peak of season on our proprietary raspberries and have a large supply available.”

“We continue to work on acreage and farming availability,” Garnett said.

“We definitely have a larger crop than last year. Mother Nature has been easier to work with than last year, especially for blueberries. Our Michigan blueberries are in line for a large crop.”

As California blueberry production faded out in May and June, the Pacific Northwest, Michigan and parts East were in line to pick up the slack.

Strawberries, though past their peak, were still setting a furious pace in the Golden State. By late July, year-to-date volumes were up 13.1% to 51.5 million flats in the Watsonville-Salinas district, and up 15.7% in Santa Maria to 40.7 million, according to the California Strawberry Commission.

Increased acreage tells part of that story, as does weather, but the most noteworthy trend may be signs of changing variety preferences. Grower-shippers who plant University of California varieties have favored albion for years, but that breeding program’s monterey variety is making inroads.

Is it starting to replace albion?

“That’s what my sense is,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director for the Watsonville-based commission.

“We saw a drop of almost 2,200 acres in albion from 2012 to 2013 in Watsonville-Salinas and an increase of 1,000 acres in monterey. In Santa Maria there was a drop of just over 1,000 acres in albion, and for monterey we saw an increase of 659 acres. There were other shifts in the mix.”

The commission also reports increased plantings of the university program’s san andreas variety, especially in Santa Maria.

“They’re the newer varieties,” O’Donnell said.

“When the latest and greatest comes out of the UC breeding program, growers are anxious to try them and see how they perform. You usually see a slow ramp-up in adoption, as when albion first came out. But over time as they produce well and the berries look consistently good, they plant more.”

The program is based at Davis, and research is also done at Riverside.

Monterey appears to be producing more fruit per acre than albion.

John King, vice president of sales for San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, said the seasonal peak for strawberries was over by the start of August, but quality remained high.



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