California strawberry growers have learned it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition when it comes to choosing the varietals they produce in various growing regions.
Varieties that thrive in the Oxnard district may not do well in Santa Maria, and not all Santa Maria berries perform well in Watsonville.
Watsonville-based West Lake Fresh has found that the ventana strawberry comes on early and peaks quickly, which is ideal for the Oxnard district and its relatively short window, said company principal Louis Ivanovich.
Santa Maria and Watsonville, with their longer windows, require varieties that offer consistent yields while maintaining their size, he said.
West Lake Fresh gets “phenomenal yields” of 10,000 trays per acre with the monterey variety in Santa Maria, he said.
“The beauty of the industry right now is that there’s such a mixture of different varieties,” he said. “As one variety tends to ebb a bit, another variety comes up to fill in.”
Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., is testing a new proprietary release that appears to be an earlier producer than its current Naturipe Selections 1975 variety in California’s southern districts, said Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing.
“We continue to evaluate several very promising varieties in the final testing stages and anticipate new plantings within the next two years,” he said.
Watsonville-based Dole Berry Co. LLC, grows albion and san andreas varieties in Santa Maria, and the same varieties plus the monterey in Watsonville, said Vince Ferrante, director, farming and harvesting operations.
“Monterey is a newer variety and has similar qualities to albion,” he said. “Size, shape and color are similar, taste is sweet but different than albion but much better than San Andreas.”
Watsonville-based Well-Pict Inc. is trying to get region-specific with its varieties, said sales manager Dan Crowley.
Well-Pict grows its 269 variety in Oxnard, but grows the 1975 variety in Santa Maria.
The 1975 is a conical berry with round shoulders, excellent flavor profile, good aroma and high yields, Crowley said.
“It seems to work best for that district.”
The 9271 variety, which the company produces in Watsonville, has a similar profile and is especially well suited for long, warm summer days because of its strong skin integrity, which helps ensure good arrivals, Crowley said.
Making sure a berry has good arrivals and a good flavor profile is a challenge for breeders, he said.
“If you breed for good arrivals, some of those characteristics tend to take away from the flavor profile,” he said. “A good flavor profile sometimes can take away from good arrival conditions.”
Short-day varieties tend to perform best in the southern districts, said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for Watsonville-based California Giant Inc. However, Watsonville/Salinas and Santa Maria can use short day and day neutral varieties.
“They have more options in the northern districts,” she said.
Santa Maria growers typically plant albion, san andreas and monterey varieties, she said, while Watsonville/Salinas growers favor the albion and monterey.
Colorful Harvest LLC, Salinas, grows many of the standard university varieties, said Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner.
“We’re also constantly testing and trialing some varieties that we like to call our developmental varieties,” he said.
Those can be new varieties, varieties that are proprietary or exclusive to Colorful Harvest or that require different growing techniques than standard berries, he said.
Developing berry varieties “is a long, arduous process,” Crowley said.
It can take eight years to develop a single new selection.
“We do all of our breeding with cross pollination. There are no GMO breeding techniques,” he emphasized. “It’s a constant multimillion dollar annual budget with no guaranteed winners.”
Nonetheless, “We choose to do this because it differentiates ourselves from the industry.”
California Giant looks for flavor, size, color and firmness in selecting its varieties, Jewell said.
One of the challenges the industry faces with many varieties is convincing consumers that when they cut into a berry and see whitish flesh it doesn’t mean the berry isn’t ripe, Jewell said.
The white-colored flesh is a varietal characteristic and does not indicate ripeness, she said.