PLANT CITY, Fla. — The grower/owner of Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC enters his 11th season of strawberry marketing by expanding production.

Sam Astin III, president and owner of the brokerage that sells his fruit, started the operation during fall 2001, though the Astin family grew berries for three decades.

Astin purchased a 550-acre field that used to grow tomatoes years ago southwest of the Plant City growing region in the Riverview area.

For this season, Astin is growing strawberries on 160 acres of the 500 acre operation. Astin plans to construct a cooling operation at the farm, which would allow Astin to ship strawberries from its Plant City headquarters south of town as well as the new production area, said Shawn Pollard, salesman.

“We needed to increase,” he said.

“We weren’t able to supply our customer base before. Up front, we needed additional volume to cover the people we’re dealing with during the early part of the deal.”

Pollard said Astin hopes to expand and bring the entire parcel of new acreage in production within two seasons.

Located in a more southerly location closer to Florida’s west coast, the region offers warmer nighttime temperatures.

Pollard said moving south makes sense.

“We have had no opportunities to expand up here,” he said.

“There are no new water permits being issued. We had to find alternative growing areas for us to expand. This is a big parcel of land that has water.”

Astin plans to operate the farm independently and market berries harvested from the fields under a new label, the Astin Family Farms brand, instead of Astin’s regular Astin label, Pollard said.

He said the exchange plans to market the fruit as usual but said Sam Astin is the sole proprietor of the new operation and doesn’t have other family member partners involved as he does with his Plant City production.

Venturing more into vegetables, Astin is also considering expanding its squash and eggplant production.

Pollard calls Astin’s growth remarkable. He said Astin started his first year with a couple of hundred acres.

This season, Astin expects to harvest up to 3 million flats from 875 acres, up from the 2.3 million flats it harvested last season from 685 acres.