PLANT CITY, Fla. — Although volume didn’t begin as early as initially predicted, buyers can expect another typical year for this season’s Florida strawberry deal.
Smaller opening season volumes also kept early-season prices high.
In late November, some growers predicted an earlier-than-typical start for promotable volumes.
Crop quality problems caused by nursery transplants, however, are expected to lower yields for some growers, said Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Wish Farms.
That damage should be spotty and shouldn’t affect a significant percentage of the overall crop, he said in mid-December.
Wishnatzki said the crop slowed in early December.
With Wish Farms’ bloom counts and forecasting models, he said he expects promotable volumes to hit after Christmas at the very earliest and perhaps during the first week of January.
After harvesting begins in late November, Florida volume usually builds slowly in early and mid-December with promotable volumes entering the market in late December.
“The overall quality should be good out of Florida,” Wishnatzki said.
“We see no problems with the quality of the fruit. There are a few size issues in some fields with some varieties, but overall quality is good.”
With California and Florida bringing light volumes to the market in early and mid-December, Wishnatzki in mid-December characterized market supplies as tight and said he expected prices to remain strong.
In mid-December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported flats of eight 1-pound clamshells from central Florida selling for $24.90, compared to $24.90-26.90 in early December.
That’s similar to last season when the USDA in early December reported those same clamshells selling for $22.90-24.90.
Wishnatzki said he expects prices to remain in the $20s until larger volume begins in January.
Chris Smith, sales manager for BBI Produce Inc., Dover, said the season began on a high note.
“Quality looks outstanding,” he said in mid-December. “The weather has been great. We are very pleased.”
Smith said volume is progressing every week and that growers are actively looking at ads for chain stores to move product.
Florida growers are estimated to produce on 11,000 acres, similar to last season, said Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Dover.
He said the deal should yield 3,500 flats per acre and produce 25 million flats, down from last year’s 27 million flats.
Last season, abnormal heat brought a flush of production in December.
“This year is seeing a sluggish start,” Campbell said in early December.
“Some plants are small. It rained during planting and some got planted late. Then it turned cool and the late plantings didn’t grow. It’s hit and miss. Some were picking early while others were waiting for their plants to bloom. We have a little of everything going on this year.”
Grower-shippers say they expect a typical deal.
“So far, the season is comparable to other years,” Shawn Pollard, salesman for Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC, said in mid-December.
“Some fields look great while some have a ways to go.”
Pollard said last season was horrible and said a big glut of fruit brought on by unseasonably warm growing weather crashed prices into single digits. He said the market never rebounded and growers lost money on quality he said was “hit and miss.”
Steve Machell, sales manager for Gulf Coast Produce Inc., Dover, said season quality is strong.
“Everything looks good and the weather has been excellent,” he said in mid-December.
“We have less plant difficulty this year and the product we’re getting from the farms looks beautiful.”
While January and February remain strong shipping months, volume peaks in March with declining shipments by late March and some shipping into early to mid-April, depending on growing season weather, market conditions and California’s seasonal entrance.