Growers hope for better winter growing conditions for strawberry deal - The Packer

Growers hope for better winter growing conditions for strawberry deal

11/05/2010 11:37:56 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

PLANT CITY, Fla. — As growers were heavy into their winter plantings, Florida growers hoped for a better strawberry season.

January’s gripping cold and freezes gutted production and slowed fruit development, bringing too much of the 2009-10 crop on the market late in the season and sending prices to the ground.

In late November, growers usually start light pickings or scrapping for red berries in the rows of predominantly green berries in the prime Plant City and Dover areas.

Doug Ohlemeier

Late freezes and lack of adequate bloom set made strawberry season difficult for Florida growers last season, but this year is shaping up to be much better, says Gary Wishnatzki, president of Wishnatzki Farms. If the weather holds, Florida growers should have more fruit earlier than last season, he says.

Volume increases in mid-December and slowly builds into promotable levels by Christmas.

Gary Wishnatzki, president of Wishnatzki Farms, said last season started slowly.

Even without the later freezes, Wishnatzki said the berries didn’t receive adequate bloom set, and the unusual cold weather compounded that.

The freezes slowed things further, and the fruit wasn’t there to begin with, robbing growers of the early season push when prices are usually higher.

This season, however, looks to be different, Wishnatzki said.

“It looks like there will be more fruit,” he said in mid-October. “Hopefully, we will have better weather. If everything is equal, there should be more acres and plenty of promotable volume. The variety mix looks good. We will have some good shipping varieties the industry is planting.”

One of Florida’s largest berry shippers, Wishnatzki plans to ship from more than 1,500 acres, up from last season’s 1,200 acres.

In late October Oct. 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported flats of 12 1-pint baskets small-medium from Salinas, Calif., selling for $11-12 and flats of 8 1-pound containers with lids medium-large for $9-10, unchanged from mid-October.

Prices usually increase as Florida’s deal opens.

SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, moved its plantings forward and plans to begin harvesting in late November.

“Through early December, we will have volume that will be nice, and so we will be aggressively pushing for an early window this season,” Keith Mixon, SunnyRidge’s president and chief executive officer, said in mid-October. “Demand is typically higher in November and December. We want to get a good portion of our crop to our customers as quickly as possible.”

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