California growers planted nearly 27,000 acres of strawberries for winter, spring and summer production this year, about 1,000 acres more than 2019, according to the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission.
The combination of increased acreage and the introduction of high-yielding varieties offers growers the potential of producing more than last year’s 202,060,557 trays.
The Oxnard district accounts for 19% of the state’s acreage, Santa Maria has 35% and Watsonville has 45%.
As of March 9, the state had produced 8,484,981 trays of strawberries compared to 4,331,428 million trays at the same time last year.
On March 11, trays of eight 1-pound clamshell containers of medium-size berries were mostly $16-17. A year ago at the same time they were $14-16.
The state’s growers expect ample supplies of good-quality berries for Easter promotions in mid-April.
Watsonville-based Well-Pict Inc. was picking in Oxnard the second week of March, said Jim Grabowski, merchandising manager.
The Oxnard deal should peak by the end of March, he said.
Santa Maria will be picking by late March, but the area was backed up because of earlier weather issues, he said. That district should peak by the end of April.
Meantime, “Watsonville is way ahead of schedule this year,” Grabowski said.
Well-Pict should have some — but not much — volume out of Watsonville for Easter.
The company’s volume out of Oxnard may be a bit higher this year than last year, and Santa Maria and Watsonville should have about the same amount of berries.
Fruit quality is expected to be good in all three growing areas, Grabowski said.
Jason Fung, vice president of categories, berries and greenhouse for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, was pleased with the start of this year’s California strawberry crop in Oxnard and Santa Maria.
“Fruit to this point has been just fantastic,” he said the second week of March.
The weather pattern has been good this year, he said.
“It’s been drier in Oxnard than it was last year.”
He expected Oppy’s volume to be up “a good amount” from May to September and about the same during the shoulders of the season.
Red Blossom Sales Inc., Salinas, Calif., was picking in Santa Maria March 9 but was preparing for rain later in the week, said Craig Casca, vice president and director of sales.
“We’re still going through some freeze damage from what happened a couple of weeks ago with cold weather,” he said.
He expected excellent quality in Santa Maria as the harvest picks up.
Red Blossom Sales planned to start picking in Watsonville around April 30, as usual, Casca said.
Oxnard-based Bobalu Berries also was harvesting in Oxnard and expected to continue past Mother’s Day, said Cindy Jewell of Jewell Marketing, who handles marketing for Bobalu.
The fields showed “beautiful quality,” she said, with “full, red, big fruit.”
Some rain was expected in March, but she said it likely only would be “a nuisance.”
Oxnard was coming into its peak she said.
“We’re looking forward to having plenty of fruit for customers.”
Oxnard and the Santa Maria districts will overlap for a short time, Jewell said.
She also expected a good-quality crop out of Watsonville starting in May, weather permitting.
“Oxnard is the major player for Easter,” said Backus Nahas, director of marketing for Oxnard-based Success Valley Produce LLC.
The company will be picking out of Oxnard and Santa Maria for that holiday, he said.
“Santa Maria is still coming out of the freeze,” he said the second week of March.
Volume was running 20% behind, but Nahas expected harvesting to rebound through the remainder of March and to catch up by the end of April.
“April is going to be a phenomenal month for not only quality, but also production,” he said.
Barring bad weather, “I think there will be tremendous opportunities for promotable berries for Easter and the week after Easter.”