An exceptionally mild early winter in California along with sluggish production out of Florida in January means good returns for Southern California strawberry grower-shippers as the season kicks off.
Temperatures into the mid-80s helped bring on ample volume in the region.
The Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission reported that harvested volume for Southern California as of Feb. 8 was about 5.7 million cases, compared with about 3.8 million cases at the same time in 2013.
The 1.1 million trays shipped the week ending Feb. 8 exceeded the 1 million-tray projection.
On Feb. 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported an f.o.b. price of mostly $14 for trays of eight 1-pound clamshells out of the Oxnard growing district. Last year on the same date, the price was $12.
Most agreed that it would be hard to do worse than last year as far as markets are concerned.
“At least for this district, (2013) was a terrible year,” said strawberry salesman Doug Lowthorp, salesman for Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif.
That’s because California, Florida and Mexico all had heavy production last winter.
“Everything came out at once,” Lowthorp said. “There was way too much (product) as an industry.”
This year, thanks to cold weather in Florida and, for a time, storms in central Mexico, the market was outstanding for Southern California growers.
On Feb. 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported an f.o.b. price of $16 for a tray of eight 1-pound clamshells out of the Oxnard growing district. Last year on the same date, the price was $12.
“The California crop is coming along really good right now,” Craig Moriyama, director of berry operations for Naturipe Berry Growers Inc., Salinas, Calif., said in late January. “We’re looking at record early volume if the weather holds.”
The Baja California and Oxnard growing areas have similar climatic conditions, said Chad Dvorak, director of sales for the berry division of San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce.
“They’re both excellent right now,” he said Feb. 4. “Size is outstanding.”
“Quality out of central Mexico has been quite good as well,” he said, though the berries, which are a different variety and grown at a higher elevation than those from the other areas, were slightly smaller.
Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Inc. started harvesting in Southern California right after Christmas, as usual, said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing.