“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.