California strawberry growers work to catch up - The Packer

California strawberry growers work to catch up

03/25/2013 10:15:00 AM
Tom Burfield

California strawberry growers are hoping that retailers won’t wait until the next major strawberry occasion — Mother’s Day, May 12 — to promote their berries.

Cool winter weather caused a slow start for the state’s strawberry season, but as temperatures begin to rise, growers have set out to make up for lost time.

Supplies were just starting to build for Easter, and grower-shippers expect the recent warm weather to bring on berries in big numbers.

There should be plenty of the fruit on hand from Oxnard and Santa Maria through Mother’s Day, when Oxnard starts to wind down.

As of March 16, the state’s growers had shipped almost 12 million trays, according to the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission. That compares with 15.4 million trays for the same period in 2012.

Trays of eight 1-pound clamshell containers of medium-large strawberries from the Oxnard and Santa Maria districts sold for $13-14 f.o.b. March 18, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Oxnard district was on course to peak around Easter, Russ Widerburg, sales manager for Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, said.

The Santa Maria district kicked off in late February for some shippers, including Salinas-based Red Blossom Sales Inc.

Craig Casca, chief executive officer and director of sales, said he expected light volume out of that region by the end of March.

“Fruit looks fantastic and tastes even better,” he said in early March.

The season also was progressing well in California for Estero, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.

“Overall, all of our districts are looking good,” said Walt Maitoza, vice president of operations for Salinas-based Naturipe Berry Growers.

Jose Corona, president of Corona Marketing, Santa Maria, hopes to benefit from the late start.

“We planted a little bit later in the season, so we’re hoping to get that late market,” he said.

Watsonville-based Dole Berry Farms LLC started harvesting in Santa Maria the first week of March, said Vince Ferrante, director of farming and harvesting operations.

“Normally, the startup begins with a few hundred boxes a day,” he said. “With the cold weather holding back the ripening, followed by a few warm days last week, it was several thousand boxes the first day,” he said March 6.

Quality out of Santa Maria as well as the other regions in California is excellent, he said, though production has been slow because of the cooler weather.

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