High yields and good flavor seem to be the characteristics grower-shippers look for most when selecting a strawberry variety.
According to the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission, the monterey variety, which accounts for 34% of the state’s strawberries, is the most widely planted, followed by fronteras with 9% and cabrillo with 5%.
About 40% of the state’s strawberries consist of various proprietary varieties developed or licensed by individual grower-shippers.
Roger Privett III, sales and business development manager for Main Street Produce Inc., Santa Maria, Calif., said the company primarily grows monterey.
“We have chosen the monterey variety because it meets the right balance of taste and fruit quality during the summer months,” he said.
“The monterey variety also maintains a steady production curve that gives us more stable production to fulfill our customers’ demands.”
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Main Street also is trialing some new University of California varieties that may provide a little earlier production while maintaining their quality in the summer months, he said.
Appearance, quality, production curve and taste are the main factors the company considers when evaluating new strawberry varieties, Privett said.
Main Street isn’t interested in procuring its own proprietary varieties at this time.
“We feel the UC system has done an excellent job over the years providing for the strawberry industry, and we don’t see any need to supplant them,” he said.
Bobalu Berries, Oxnard, Calif., also uses the day-neutral monterey variety in the northern districts because it performs well during longer days and “continues to push fruit out all spring and all summer,” said Cindy Jewell of Jewell Marketing, who handles marketing for Bobalu.
She described the monterey as “delicious, big, red, firm and juicy.”
The company has planted the fronteras variety in Oxnard.
It comes on early when days are short in winter, and it performs well for Oxnard and the early Santa Maria deal, she said.
“It’s the first time in a long time there’s been a short-day variety that is good for the farmer and the consumer,” Jewell said.
“That’s a hard thing to achieve — something that provides yields, is resistant to the rain and pests that the consumer actually likes to eat.”
The two varieties provide the best mix to extend the season through to winter, she said.
Watsonville-based Well-Pict Inc. grows proprietary numbered varieties exclusively, said Jim Grabowski, merchandising manager.
“We don’t really promote the variety per se,” he said. Varieties simply are touted as being proprietary.
Strawberry varieties typically have limited lifetimes, he said, so Well-Pict’s researchers constantly are looking for new ones.
“We probably have hundreds of varieties in different stages of testing,” he said. “There’s always a new variety in the pipeline.”
Test plantings range from one row to several acres.
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Good flavor is the main characteristic the company breeds for, he said, along with high yields and bright color.
Well-Pict believes it’s possible to get a better flavor profile with a proprietary variety than with a university variety, Grabowski said.
The university generally tries to meet all criteria — yield, color, flavor and shippability — in one variety, while Well-Pict has the option of focusing on specific characteristics with its proprietary varieties, he said.
Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Berry Growers produces its proprietary variety No. 367 in Oxnard, said Craig Moriyama, director of berry operations.
The variety is characterized by large fruit size, good color and heavy, early production.
Naturipe also is testing new proprietary varieties in Oxnard and Santa Maria and may expand any varieties that produce good results, he said.
The company has planted mostly monterey in the Watsonville district but is testing others.
Naturipe uses proprietary varieties “to allow the customer another choice,” Moriyama said.
“When we find something that yields better than the university variety, we’ll go in that direction,” he said.