The summer strawberry season is off to a good start in California volumewise, but that picture could change in August and beyond.
Growers could approach or even top the record-setting 181.3 million trays they produced in 2010, said Carolyn O’Donnell, director of communications for the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission.
“We’re rockin’ and rollin’,” Dan Crowley, sales manager for Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville, said in mid-July.
Well-Pict is seeing outstanding quality on its proprietary berries, he said.
“We’ve had really ideal conditions for strawberries,” Crowley said, as a result of cool, foggy nights and mornings and warm, sunny afternoons.
“The quality and the flavor profile are outstanding,” he said.
The company’s volume will be up 10% compared to last year, he said, since the firm has switched to the single proprietary variety that performs best in the Watsonville district.
Oxnard and San Diego/Orange County districts have finished shipping for the summer, but movement continues in Santa Maria.
“The crop looks really good out of Santa Maria,” said Craig Casca, chief executive officer and director of sales for Red Blossom Sales, Los Olivos, Calif.
The albion berries the company ships also were looking good in Salinas, Calif.
“In Salinas, we’re going to have really good quality through the summer,” Casca said.
Berry size has been excellent, he said.
Prices started off strong, but began to slump in early June, Casca said.
“We’re hoping for better things coming up this summer,” he said.
“California is in the midst of a making a record crop,” said Vince Lopes, vice president of sales for Naturipe Farms LLC, Salinas, Calif.
The company, which ships strawberries year-round, has summer programs in the Watsonville and Santa Maria districts.
Although summer movement at retail and foodservice has been very good, he said “markets and grower returns remain mostly unprofitable.”
Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner for Colorful Harvest LLC, Salinas, said that although the market has seen a “huge amount of early volume,” that may not be the case for the second half of the season.
“There is a very strong concern in the industry that the large amounts of volume will stress the plants, and, therefore, the amount of available volume will come to a screeching halt sometime in August,” he said.
That would drive market prices higher than usual in August, September and October, he said.
Plenty of volume should be available through July, which he said was a good month to promote the fruit.
However, he said inventories could start to drop starting Aug. 1, and that could negatively affect laborers who would not have as much product to pick as they would like.
Retailers may continue to promote strawberries, he said, but at higher prices.
Constant mild weather conditions and strong competition from other commodities, like stone fruit, could help shore up the strawberry market, he said.
“It will be a very nontraditional year,” Ranno said.