Tom BurfieldA worker picks some proprietary 1975 berries in grower Gary Nakamura’s Oxnard, Calif., field for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla. Naturipe’s Vinnie Lopes, regional vice president of sales, says ample promotional opportunities will exist from Valentine’s Day through the end of the season.Unusually cool weather turned into ideal growing conditions as the Southern California strawberry season kicked off for most growers in December and January.
As of Feb. 4, Southern California growers had shipped 3.1 million trays of strawberries, more than doubling the 1.5 million trays shipped at the same time last year when the region was deluged by rain, according to the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission.
In all, Southern California growers produced 48.1 million trays of strawberries in 2011, according to the commission. Projected volume for 2012 is 46.7 million trays for the region and about 176 million trays statewide.
F.o.b. prices for trays of eight 1-pound containers of medium-large berries were mostly $12 on Feb. 6. A year earlier, they were $16-18, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In time for Valentine’s Day
Watsonville-based Well-Pict Inc. was reporting steady volume in early February after a slightly later start than usual because of cool weather in December and early January, said Dan Crowley, sales manager.
By Feb. 1, growing conditions were “ideal,” he said. “This will push us into some pretty good numbers in the very near future.”
Valentine’s Day promotions started the first weekend of February.
“We should have adequate supplies, not an overabundance of fruit out of the Oxnard area for Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14),” Crowley said.
The industry should hit the million-tray-per week mark soon, said Vinnie Lopes, regional vice president of sales for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla.
“The Southern California crop is coming into full swing,” Lopes said, adding that abundant promotional opportunities should exist from the pre-Valentine’s Day period through the end of the season.
Good quality, size
Watsonville-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc. was enjoying “a very promising start” to its Oxnard season, said Valerie Lott, director of strawberry business management.
“Conditions so far have been very conducive to great quality and size, with mild temperatures and dry early conditions,” she said.
The company’s Oxnard program will increase year over year because of additional acreage and more productive ranches, Lott said.
The season also looked promising for Dole’s Watsonville-based berry operation in all of its Southern California growing areas — Oxnard, Oceanside and Coachella — said Norman Shiffman, general manager.