PLANT CITY, Fla. — Though harvesting of Florida strawberries began in late November as usual, growers through early to mid-December were harvesting larger-than-normal volume.
A milder growing season coupled with increased acreage helped produce strong volume.
Wish Farms started harvesting Nov. 10, a couple of weeks earlier than normal. By early December, the grower-shipper was harvesting enough volume for retailers to conduct small promotions.
Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer, characterized quality as high.
“This is probably as good as or better of a start than what we have experienced in the past,” he said in early December.
“The weather has been good overall. The plants are off to a good start. We have had minimal problems.”
Wishnatzki and other growers called opening season prices strong.
On Dec. 5, Wishnatzki quoted flats of eight 1-pound clamshells from central Florida selling for $24.90-26.90, the price the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in late November.
By Dec. 5, the USDA reported those same clamshells from central Florida selling for $22.90-24.90.
That’s lower than last season in mid-December when California weather problems helped increase Florida’s opening season prices to $26.90-28.90.
Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner with Colorful Harvest LLC, Salinas, Calif., said the high season prices should point to strong season markets.
“What we should see this year, even as the volume comes on, retailers will be promoting at much higher prices, because they want to hit comparable store sales,” he said.
“With the markets starting so much higher, we will see aggressive pricing at higher promotable levels. That’s good for stores because they will have more sales dollars generated from strawberry sales during peak harvest, and they should get a better allocation of labor in the stores because the typical ring on strawberries during promotable times will be higher.”
Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, Calif., began its Dover area harvesting in mid-November.
“The season is off to a good start,” Valerie Lott, Driscoll’s director of strawberry business management, said in mid-December.
“In general, plant establishment is strong and fruit quality is great. We’re very much looking forward to a good 2011-12 season.”
Craig Casca, vice president of Red Blossom, Oxnard, Calif., which grows and ships from Plant City-based McDonald Farms, called quality high.