Cold’s effects on strawberries should be slight

01/16/2013 03:09:00 PM
Andy Nelson

A string of cold nights in California shouldn’t make much of a dent in the state’s strawberry crop.

Thanks to extensive freeze-protection measures, volumes and markets won’t likely be significantly affected by the cold weather, Carolyn O’Donnell, director of communications for the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission, said Jan. 15.

“I’ve talked to growers in Ventura and Santa Maria, and it sounds like those who did frost protection, the damage is minimal,” she said.

Most Oxnard growers ran wind machines, sprayed with water and, in some cases, brought in helicopters to mitigate damage for five nights beginning Jan. 10, O’Donnell said.

“The Oxnard guys are tired,” she said.

But as a result of their efforts, damage should be limited, and strawberry prices shouldn’t be significantly affected, O’Donnell said.

Overall damage from the freezes could be up to 15% for California Giant Inc., Watsonville, Calif., Cindy Jewell, the company’s marketing director, said Jan. 15.

“There will be a bit of gap, then we’ll be back in business,” she said. “There were light volumes anyway, so it’s not like we’re going from huge volumes to nothing.”

Temperatures were expected to return closer to normal in the second half of January, Jewell said. The gap would likely come the week of Jan. 21.

On Jan. 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $14-16 for flats of 12 1-pound containers of medium and large strawberries from Oxnard, down from $18 last year at the same time.

In fact, fruit that is set to harvest for the busy Valentine’s Day period should benefit from the cold, she said.

Jewell agreed.

“It’s always better when the plants are dormant,” she said. “It makes them more hardy when we get into production.”

Growers in Ventura County and Santa Maria who did not protect crops and suffered damage will likely be set back up to four weeks.

“Most of it was bloom damage, not fruit damage,” O’Donnell said.

Because of the cold weather, Santa Maria production could begin in early March instead of late February, Jewell said.

In Florida, meanwhile, growers the week of Jan. 14 were dealing with exactly the opposite kind of weather problem.

“It’s been a bit of a rough spot with the warm weather the last couple of weeks,” said Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms. “There’s a little extra production, and prices have slid quite a bit this week.”


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