Good weather kicks off Southern California strawberry season

02/11/2014 09:31:00 AM
Tom Burfield

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.

Doug Lowthorp, strawberry salesman for Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., shows clamshells of strawberries with stems attached. “Stems” are especially popular for holidays like Valentine’s Day,Tom BurfieldDoug Lowthorp, strawberry salesman for Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., shows clamshells of strawberries with stems attached. “Stems” are especially popular for holidays like Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day.Temperatures into the mid-80s helped bring on ample volume in the region.

The Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission reported that harvested volume as of Feb. 1 was about 4.6 million cases, compared with 3 million cases at the same time in 2013.

The 1.2 million trays shipped the week ending Feb. 1 was well above the 805,000-tray projection.

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.

“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.

“Quality is great,” she said, as were size and taste.

She expects strawberries to be available for Valentine’s Day.

“We just don’t know how many or where from,” she said.

The company sources from California, Mexico and Florida in February.

She also was optimistic about Easter, April 20.

“We should have a lot of berries for Easter,” she said.


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