Some unusual rainy weather in late June seemed somewhat fitting for an unsettled early strawberry season in California.
“It’s been raining on and off all year,” said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for California Giant Inc., Watsonville.
“It’s been an unpredictable season for a lot of fruit this year because of all the rain and the crazy weather we had in California.”
By early July, however, it looked like the Watsonville-Salinas growing area had settled back into its usual weather pattern of early morning fog, consistent temperatures in the afternoon and a cool late-afternoon breeze.
“It’s perfect weather for strawberries in Watsonville and Santa Maria as well,” Jewell said.
Berry quality was good, judging from the complimentary consumer e-mails the company was receiving, she said. Berry size should hold up as well, because the albion variety doesn’t shrink as the season progresses.
California supplies should remain steady well into November, she said.
As of July 9, the state’s growers had shipped 109 million trays of strawberries, according to the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission. Last year at the same time, growers had shipped 114 million cartons.
“The (year-to-date) figures for 2011 are slowly closing the gap between last year’s comparative numbers, and production is expected to remain consistent through July,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director.
On July 11, trays of eight 1-pound cartons were selling for $8, the same as on the same date in 2010, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Volume looked steady for mid- and late summer, said Michelle Deleissegues, marketing director for Red Blossom Farms, Oxnard, Calif.
“Strawberries are benefitting from other commodities’ weather issues, such as cherries, which were basically rained out,” she said.
The cooler summer weather caused tree fruit and sweet corn to mature later than normal, she added.
All Red Blossom strawberries will be from Santa Maria and Salinas during the summer.
“Our late-season strawberries have been a very pleasant surprise for us,” said Dan Crowley, sales manager for Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville.
The company has high hopes for its 9271 proprietary variety because of its skin integrity, great shine and nice, conical shape, he said.
“It’s really turned out to be a beauty queen,” Crowley said. “The flavor profile has been outstanding.”
The company ships the 9271 variety from May to September. It’s a day-neutral variety characterized by plateau production, rather than building to a big peak, then dropping off, he said.
“It sustains volume over a long time, so it’s easier to manage and bring to market,” Crowley said.
The Salinas crop kicked into high gear in late June, said Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner of Colorful Harvest LLC, Salinas.
There should be plenty of promotable volume this season, even though yields were less than expected because of cold, wet weather early on.
“The weather projections for July and August are for dry, warm days, which should make for better quality in July and August,” he said.
The rain in late June was “very, very unexpected,” he said, and made harvesting a challenge. But on the bright side, it helped put nutrients back into the soil.