California strawberry volumes started to drop before Sept. 1 but plenty remained for promotions in the fall, when the fruit has a reputation for sweetness.
“The berries are pretty sweet right now, but in the fall it takes longer to ripen a berry so you get more sugars,” said John King, vice president of sales for Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce. “Those late season berries are some of the sweetest of the year.”
Peak volume hit in July and August out of Watsonville and Santa Maria, King said. In addition to slowed ripening in cooler temperatures, brix levels also tend to benefit when plants support fewer berries, as they do in fall.
“We’ve had warm nights even right along the coast where our farms are located, often within sight of the ocean,” King said. “The shelf life is always challenged in the summer months. We’ll look for quality to improve as we get into the back half of August and September as the days get shorter.”
Through July 26 statewide production year to date was 139.2 million trays, ahead of 135.5 million last year, according to the California Strawberry Commission. The trade group was still counting up summer-planted acres.
“What the summer plant accomplishes and if and when the rain starts will determine what the year-end number will look like,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director for the Watsonville-based commission.
At Watsonville-based Well-Pict Berries, peak strawberry production is in May and June.
“But we’ll have steady, heavy volume through August and September,” said Jim Grabowski, merchandising manager.
In September the fruit will shift from competing with stone fruit and melons for consumer dollars to battling apples and other fall fruits, Grabowski said.
California produces strawberries year-round with the fall focus shifting to Oxnard and Santa Maria. Andrew & Williamson, for one, starts production of summer planted acres in mid-October. In Oxnard and Baja California, Mexico, they’ll harvest through January, King said.
“The quality has been great,” O’Donnell said. “It seems like consumers are happy with what they’re finding in the market.”
As August began, growers faced a soft market for raspberries.
“The industry as a whole is pumping out close to 200,000 trays a day,” Grabowski said. “The raspberry crop at this time of year is unbelievably strong. The market is weak and volume is strong.”
The state suffered volume losses on blueberries.
“We’re still waiting on the final numbers, but based on our estimates we’re going to be down 20% to 25%,” Alex Ott, executive director of the Fresno-based California Blueberry Commission, said Aug. 1.
A freeze at the start plus excess warmth and drought during the growing season were the culprits.
“Quality was good but the crop wasn’t what we anticipated,” Ott said.
California blueberries ended in early July, giving way to Oregon.