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California’s strawberry crop seemed to be gradually returning to normal volume this spring after a rainy winter that delayed picking early in the season.

As of April 20, the state’s growers had shipped about 27.7 million trays compared to about 29 million trays last year.

On a weekly basis, volume for the week ending April 20 was about 7 million trays, up from about 5.6 million trays for the same week in 2018.

Growers expected shipments to pick up as Mother’s Day and Memorial Day neared and weather improves.

Prices were down compared to last year. On April 23, f.o.b. prices for trays of eight 1-pound clamshells from the Santa Maria growing area were mostly $6, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the same time in 2018, prices were $10-12.

Suppliers said volume in Oxnard was winding down while Santa Maria was ramping up and picking was getting started in Salinas/Watsonville.

Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Inc. expected to finish its Oxnard deal the first week of May and was receiving steadily increasing volume out of Santa Maria and Watsonville, said Jim Grabowski, merchandising manager.

Santa Maria and Watsonville both had late starts because of consistently rainy weather this winter, but the precipitation was welcomed even though it pushed back the season a bit.

In mid-April, Watsonville and Santa Maria were running about two to three weeks behind their normal picking schedules, he said.

Watsonville should be steadily ramping up by the first week of May, while Santa Maria already was shipping significant volume.

“There will be plenty of berries for Mother’s Day (May 12),” barring any last-minute rainstorms, he said.

Memorial Day, May 27, also should be a strong strawberry occasion, he said.

“We’ll be strong all through May,” Grabowski said, adding that good supplies should continue through June.

Oxnard production also was leveling off for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Berry Growers, said Craig Moriyama, director of berry operations.

Santa Maria was continuing to build in April, and Moriyama expected full production in that region by early May.

He expected picking to gradually increase in Salinas/Watsonville during May.

“May and June will be big for berries,” he said. “Quality looks good,” he added, with strong, healthy plants and plenty of sunshine.

After a dry year in 2018, this year’s heavy rainfall brought the strawberry deal back to normal, he said.

Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms was expected to be picking in all of California’s strawberry growing areas the first week of May, said Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing.

Peak season should be starting in Santa Maria, she said, and the first round of picking should be finished in Watsonville, with the season ramping up there. 

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