Tom BurfieldVice president Tom Rhein (from left) of Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, grower Gary Nakamura and Naturipe’s Oxnard, Calif.-area supervisor Honorio Martinez check out some proprietary 1975 berries in Nakamura’s Oxnard field in early February. Some growers have switched over to or are testing the benicia variety, while others — including Naturipe and Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict — are focusing on their own proprietary varieties. A strawberry is a strawberry as far as the average consumer is concerned. But those in the industry know better.
Many of those who sell berries on a day-to-day basis actually can detect subtle differences between two seemingly similar pieces of fruit.
The benicia ranks as a new berry many shippers are trying.
Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., tested the benicia last year and has planted more this season, said David Cook, sales manager.
The benicia has several distinctive characteristics.
It has kind of a purple color, Cook said, and has good shape and size — at least early in the deal — and it appears that it will ship well.
One of its most important qualities is its timing.
“We need varieties that come early,” he said. “The early aspect is important to us.”
Replacing other varieties
Deardorff Family Farms also ships the san andreas and a few other varieties but not much of the ventana.
“We’ve pretty much given up on ventana,” Cook said, explaining that it no longer performs as well as it once did.
Similarly, California Giant Inc., Watsonville, Calif., also has abandoned the ventana, preferring to give the benicia a try, said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing.
“It should take us through Mother’s Day,” Jewell said.
Growers are eager to see how well the benicia performs in the rain, holds up to pests and diseases and maintains its size through the end of the season.
The company tried some albions in Oxnard, but it did not perform as well as the benicia, she said. The firm has planted some benicia in Santa Maria, as well.
The san andreas remains the most prevalent variety in Southern California, Jewell said, accounting for about 80% of the berries.
Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, is heaviest into the san andreas, followed by the ventana, palomar and benicia, said Russ Widerburg, sales manager.
Boskovich Farms experimented with the benicia last year and is doing fewer ventanas this year and more of the others, he said.
Good yields and good quality during the front end of the season make the ventana worth holding onto, though, he said.
Orange County Produce LLC, Irvine, Calif., grows mostly san andreas, caminos and benicias on the organic side and the san andreas and benicia on the conventional side, said partner Matt Kawamura.
“(The benicia) seems to be doing very well right now,” he said. “We have to wait and see how much it will produce later, though.”