California strawberry exports still growing

Mike Hornick

Mark Murai, president of the California Strawberry Commission, speaks on exports at the Monterey Bay International Trade Association luncheon in Monterey, Calif.

MONTEREY, Calif. — California strawberry exports rose in value about 8%, to about $341 million, in 2010.

That’s up from $316 million the prior year, said Mark Murai, president of the California Strawberry Commission. Volume was 276 million pounds for fresh and frozen, up from 273 million. Fresh accounted for close to 90% of the production.

Murai went over the numbers as he and representatives of other industries gathered to talk exports at the Monterey Bay International Trade Association luncheon May 18. Congressman Sam Farr, D-Carmel, reports annually on the National Export Initiative at the event, cosponsored by the Monterey County Business Council.

More than 50 people attended.

Exports accounted for 23% of the state’s strawberry production. Growth has been continuous; in 2005, for example, the value was $198 million. A variety of factors contributed to the rise, Murai said.

Among them, he said, was the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Access program.

“That has helped our growers expand export market opportunities,” he said. “Growers put up their money and get matching funds from the USDA to help promote their strawberries in all these countries.”

He also credited Farr for helping with a pilot program created to address inspection requirements for strawberries bound for Australia.

“This program brings the Australian customs inspectors to California — they live here — so that shipments can be checked for insects or weed seeds, things Australia doesn’t want us to bring in,” Murai said. “These inspections, when done in Australia, are devastating to us if we ship strawberries and they’re found positive. The whole load has to be destroyed. By bringing customs inspection here to California, it really cuts down on our losses.”

Even with the upward trend in exports of the last several years, there’s still room for growth, Murai said.

“In June and July there’s a tremendous amount of strawberries coming off the plants,” he said. “Most areas are not producing strawberries when the season kicks into high gear here. Any export opportunity provides additional outlets for our strawberries, hopefully at a premium price.”

One prized destination is China.

“China is one country we are actively pursuing market access to,” Murai said. “They have a very limited window for growing (strawberries) in China. They’re very enthusiastic about bringing California strawberries in.”

Project 17

Susan Arcady Barich, director of the Project 17 Agricultural Technology Regional Innovation Cluster ( also spoke at the luncheon. Project 17 is funded in part by a $600,000 annual contract from the federal Small Business Administration, good for up to two years, to support innovation in the industry.

“Think of it in terms of trying to create the infrastructure that allowed Silicon Valley to become the electronics center of the world,” Barich said. “That’s what we’re trying to do with agricultural technology.”

Projects envisioned are wide-ranging and include a water quality center in Salinas plus technology research parks in nearby San Benito County and Marina, Barich said.

“The USDA Agricultural Research Station (in Salinas) told us they have tons of research and patents sitting around that they need companies to get started on, to bring those technologies to the ag sector,” Barich said.