The benicia strawberry variety is making headway in Southern California, where it shares the stage with a handful of other university and proprietary varieties.
In the Oxnard district alone, benicia acreage increased from 62 in 2011 to 1,165 in 2013, according to the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission.
Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., planted a small amount of the benicia in 2011, it accounted for one-third of the company’s berries last year and more than half this season, said David Cook, sales manager.
“It has really nice, deep red color, good size and good shape,” he said, adding that it has “exceptional flavor” early in the season.
The san andreas, which comes on a little later than the benicia, is heavier during the last half of the season and has good size and good production, he said.
Both varieties are fairly sturdy in the rain, Cook said.
Watsonville, Calif.-based CBS Farms grows the benicia, san andreas and palomar varieties in the Oxnard area, said Charlie Staka, director of sales.
“The benicia worked well last year, and we hope it works as well this year,” he said.
It offers early production and large fruit, which comes in handy for Valentine’s Day demand for stem berries, Staka said.
The Palomar is an early producer and offers good-tasting, flavorful berries, he said.
Irvine, Calif.-based Orange County Produce LLC grows mostly the san andreas variety, said partner Matt Kawamura.
The benicia accounts for less than 15% of the company’s volume, but Kawamura said he’ll “be keeping an eye on it.”
“The san andreas works for us,” he said.
Labor is the biggest issue.
“The san andreas allows us to pick steady and easily without big spikes,” Kawamura said.
“The fruit quality is excellent, and it’s got great flavor.”
Watsonville-based California Giant Inc. is trying the benicia, said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing.
“It’s one more option,” she said, as the company seeks the right variety for the right growing region.
It’s a short-day variety, so it’s designed to be used in the southern districts, she said, adding that it has good disease resistance and good flavor.
The plant has a lot of leaves, which can protect it during cold weather, she said. “But it could be harder to pick,” since the harvester has to dig through the plant to find the fruit.
If it receives good reception, the firm will plant more next year.