PLANT CITY, Fla. — Buyers should expect this season to bring stronger December production of Florida strawberries.
Last year, the season got a late start as cold weather delayed early production and kept supplies low during the early parts of December, when Florida’s berries can be at their highest demand during the start of the Sunshine State’s winter window.
Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Wish Farms, said California this fall experienced unusual early rains, which could keep the strawberry market tight into November and December, before Florida’s production begins in volume.
“Though not unheard of, the unusual rains could affect their (California’s) bloom and volume,” Wishnatzki said in mid-October.
“I would expect the early market will probably be good this year, based on California’s weather patterns.”
A December 2010 freeze kept Florida growers awake all night running irrigation systems to form ice domes that protect their berries from freezing. Though growers didn’t sustain large damage, the constant cold delayed production.
Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Dover, said he expects growers to harvest from 11,000 planted acres, up from 10,000 acres growers harvested last season.
“Most growers believe there is now an additional 1,000 acres, and possibly a bit more,” Campbell said.
“And there its certainly more land targeted for growth in the near future. The good news is the growers are obviously bullish on the winter strawberry market, and unproductive citrus areas are still being converted.”
Those 11,000 acres should produce around 27 million flats of eight 1-pound clamshells, up from the nearly 25 million flats the deal produced in 2010-11, Campbell said.
Wishnatzki said Wish Farms also should see production increases. Thanks to the addition of new growers, he said Wish Farms plans to harvest more than 2,000 acres, higher than the more than 1,500 acres it planted last season. Wishnatzki said he expects to produce 5 million flats.
Wishnatzki said transplants have remained on schedule and said he expects larger plantings of radiance variety berries to produce higher early season volume. Wishnatzki said growers should harvest from a couple of hundred acres of the new variety in late November.
Volume increases in mid-December and slowly builds into promotable levels by Christmas.
Jeff Williams, president of Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC, Wimauma, said he’s also heard acreage increased.
Williams said growers have told him they planted at least 800 to 1,000 more acres.
“Berry volume will be up,” Williams said.
“We have our fingers crossed it will be a good season.”
Hearne planted 200 acres this season, up from 115 last season.
Florida volume typically runs through late March with smaller volumes shipped into mid-April.