The benicia strawberry variety is making headway in Southern California, where it shares the stage with a handful of other university and proprietary varieties.
In the Oxnard district alone, benicia acreage increased from 62 in 2011 to 1,165 in 2013, according to the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission.
Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., planted a small amount of the benicia in 2011, it accounted for one-third of the company’s berries last year and more than half this season, said David Cook, sales manager.
“It has really nice, deep red color, good size and good shape,” he said, adding that it has “exceptional flavor” early in the season.
The san andreas, which comes on a little later than the benicia, is heavier during the last half of the season and has good size and good production, he said.
Both varieties are fairly sturdy in the rain, Cook said.
Watsonville, Calif.-based CBS Farms grows the benicia, san andreas and palomar varieties in the Oxnard area, said Charlie Staka, director of sales.
“The benicia worked well last year, and we hope it works as well this year,” he said.
It offers early production and large fruit, which comes in handy for Valentine’s Day demand for stem berries, Staka said.
The Palomar is an early producer and offers good-tasting, flavorful berries, he said.
Irvine, Calif.-based Orange County Produce LLC grows mostly the san andreas variety, said partner Matt Kawamura.
The benicia accounts for less than 15% of the company’s volume, but Kawamura said he’ll “be keeping an eye on it.”
“The san andreas works for us,” he said.
Labor is the biggest issue.
“The san andreas allows us to pick steady and easily without big spikes,” Kawamura said.
“The fruit quality is excellent, and it’s got great flavor.”
Watsonville-based California Giant Inc. is trying the benicia, said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing.
“It’s one more option,” she said, as the company seeks the right variety for the right growing region.
It’s a short-day variety, so it’s designed to be used in the southern districts, she said, adding that it has good disease resistance and good flavor.
The plant has a lot of leaves, which can protect it during cold weather, she said. “But it could be harder to pick,” since the harvester has to dig through the plant to find the fruit.
If it receives good reception, the firm will plant more next year.
Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC is heavy toward the reliance variety in the Coachella Valley, which produces early fruit, said Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing.
The reliance is a good, solid piece of fruit, with great flavor that comes on early in the season and performs well in the Coachella Valley climate, he said.
The company also has Southern California acreage in Oxnard and Irvine.
Its own 1975 variety dominates the company’s plantings in the region, including the Santa Maria district.
“The 1975 variety has really performed extremely well for us in Santa Maria for three years now,” Verloop said.
Naturipe also has other “limited distribution varieties that help us fine tune our offerings to our clients who are looking for a specific variety or taste preference,” he said.
Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville, has some “promising new varieties” grown in limited numbers, said Dan Crowley, sales manager.
The berries have been taken out of test plots and are being introduced into some of the company’s commercial fields on a small scale.
They should be available commercially next season.
They’ll be similar to the company’s proprietary 269 variety, which Crowley said has “outstanding flavor, very large primary fruit size, some rain resistance and very high yields.”
Most of the berries that the company ships from the Oxnard district are the 269 variety.
The two new varieties will be supplemental to the 269 and are part of an ongoing breeding program that started six or seven years ago with about 20,000 cultivars.