California growers seeking a little reassurance on pricing for fresh strawberries need help from the processed and frozen berry markets.

Through mid-March, processors had received just 800,000 pounds in 2011, down from 10 million the year before, said Gabe Moreno, assistant manager at the Processing Strawberry Advisory Board, Watsonville, Calif.

Receipts a year ago were high, but 800,000 pounds remains below average. The 2009 figure of 2.6 million was more typical.

“It’s a little slow coming this year,” said Moreno. “There was a two-week delay at nurseries, so plants went into the ground late and (winter) weather put a delay on production.”

Inventory on hand Jan. 31, which includes berries for juice and other uses already in cold storage, was 234 million pounds.

“Prices are supposed to be higher this year than last primarily because inventories are down,” said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing at California Giant Berry Farms, Watsonville.

“They’re willing to pay higher prices. It does provide a good base and helps to stabilize the market. When there’s a higher freezer price, it helps to keep the fresh price higher, too. It gives growers the confidence to keep their fresh price up, knowing they have the freezer price to go to.”

An official price report was not due out until April 1. Edward Ortega, partner in Beach Street Farms, said frozen strawberries’ cents-per-pound price was in the high 30s.

“I’ve heard of pretty aggressive prices earlier in the year with processors who need to source fruit,” said Moreno.