PLANT CITY, Fla. — Florida grower-shippers began harvesting strawberries a little earlier than normal, and buyers should expect the season to bring volume a couple of weeks sooner than usual.

Florida berry season starts earlier than usualAlthough a Wish Farms grower in Floral City, about 50 miles north of Plant City, began light harvesting in late October, some Plant City growers started harvesting in mid-November, about a week ahead of the normal.

Gary Wishnatzki, Wish Farms’ president and chief executive officer, said volume is building and should be producing stronger volume by Dec. 10, with promotable volume hitting the market Dec. 15-20.

“Industry volume should be a little earlier this year than normal,” Wishnatzki said Nov. 28. “The berries look great and things are off to a good start and we have had great weather. Right now, it doesn’t look like we’ll have the glut we had last year. We should have good volume.”

Wishnatzki said he finished harvesting his Salinas, Calif., volume Nov. 27 and said the Golden State was slowing its seasonal production.

Florida berry season starts earlier than usualIn late November, Wishnatzki quoted flats of eight 1-pound clamshells from central Florida selling for about $24.95 with some selling for as high as $28.90.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture wasn’t reporting Florida prices yet but said light shipments were expected to continue through Dec. 5. The USDA reported low overnight temperatures delaying crop maturities.

From Oxnard, Calif., the USDA reported 12 1-pint baskets medium-large selling for $22 with flats of eight 1-pound containers with lids medium-large selling for $20.

Florida opening season prices are similar to last year in early December when the USDA reported the eight 1-pound clamshells from central Florida selling for $22.90-24.90, with prices occasionally lower.

Paul Berger, executive vice president and produce director for Food City Markets, Pearl River, N.Y., said the start of Florida’s strawberry season should help supplies and demand.

“Strawberries are not only nonexistent, but prices are absurd,” he said Nov. 29. “When you’re talking $5-6 for a container of strawberries, no one would buy them. You have to basically give them away if you could sell them at all.

“The Florida start should ease the market considerably because volume has been so tight. No one looks forward to high-priced berries, but when they’re plentiful it’s certainly something to look forward to.”

Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC began harvesting light volume Nov. 21.Shawn Pollard, salesman, said Astin has only harvested a small volume.

Florida berry season starts earlier than usual“Fruit quality is average,” he said Nov. 27. “Sometimes, the initial early fruit is a little bit tender and not as good as it should be, but we should have some high quality fruit in 10 days.”

Pollard said Astin’s owner, Sam Astin III, who grows on 1,000 acres, should start harvesting in early December with higher quality fruit entering the market by Dec. 10.

All varieties should be yielding with promotable volume by Dec. 20, Pollard said.

Dover-based BBI Produce Inc., began scrapping or light harvesting Nov. 20.

After a disastrous season last year, the new season is shaping up to be more typical, said Chris Smith, sales manager.

“Last year, we had more early fruit than we had in the past because of all the early heat,” he said Nov. 27. “This year, we started more normal with normal cool weather and things look really good. We are in a more previous year’s mode or average.”

Florida volume typically runs through late March with smaller volumes shipped into mid-April.