Bright berry outlook for California

04/30/2013 03:03:00 PM
Mike Hornick

More berries could be shipping from California this spring and summer.

Blueberry production is on pace to continue its rise of recent years. How strawberry volume will compare to past output is less clear, but as April began, supplies were starting to peak and acreage was up 6.5%.

The blueberry deal, which runs April to June, is scattered across a vast stretch of the state from San Diego in the south to Corning in the north.

“Last year we finished at about 44 million pounds, and this year could be substantially higher,” Alex Ott, executive director of the Fresno-based California Blueberry Commission, said April 2. “Recently we became the fifth-largest producer of blueberries in the U.S.”

Jerry Moran, bush berry category manager for Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms, said yield is climbing.

“A lot of the younger plants are increasing in production every year, so we’re still seeing an increase overall,” he said.

California Giant was harvesting coastal blueberries in Santa Maria, Calif., and Oxnard, Calif., as April began, but Moran expected the real volume to hit in May out of the Central Valley.

The grower-shipper has packing facilities in Reedley, Calif., and Exeter, Calif. On blackberries, the company plans to ship Mexican fruit until its Watsonville, Calif., supplies are projected to start in mid-June.

“California is a perfect state to fill in between Mexico and Chilean blueberries and the Pacific Northwest,” Ott said. The bulk of the state’s crop comes off in April and May, he added, and remains active through the end of June. By July the Pacific Northwest kicks in.

Up to 20% of California blueberries go to the export market. Canada is the top destination, with Japan second.

“We may eventually have open markets in Korea and Australia, but we’re still working hard on those,” Ott said.

For strawberries, the 6.5% increase brings total acreage to 40,192. Most of the new land is in Ventura County and Santa Maria, said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director for the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission.

By April, Orange County, Ventura County, Santa Maria and Watsonville were all in production and peak season for strawberries had begun.

Orange County ends by May, while Watsonville goes to November. Santa Maria harvests strawberries almost year round, and Oxnard, with two plantings, goes about nine months.



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