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California strawberry outlook bright for March and April

by Brian Gaylord | February 04, 2009
Easter falls on April 12 this year, and there should be plenty of berries available from Southern California growing districts for the holiday. Last year's early Easter -- March 23 -- made meeting demand for strawberries more challenging.

Several companies warned of a possible gap in supplies of a week or more leading into Valentine's Day promotions. An about 10-day stretch of temperatures of over 80 degrees in Southern California led to an early start to the harvest, which could lead to the dry period.

David Cook, a salesperson for Oxnard, CA-based Deardorff Family Farms, told The Produce News that a warm fall led to an early start to the harvest, with the first picking in November.

Anthony Gallino, vice president of sales for Watsonville, CA-based California Giant Berry Farms, told The Produce News that there was a plant shortage last year, but he said that this year "is back to normal."

The California strawberry 2009 acreage survey on the California Strawberry Commission's web site shows that in 2009, total California strawberry acreage continues an upward trend at 37,914 acres. The reported increase over 2008 is 1,395 acres or nearly an additional 4 percent.

California strawberry acreage planted in the fall, which produces fruit during the traditional winter, spring and summer seasons, increased in 2009 by 1,106 acres or 3.55 percent statewide. Compared with 2008, acreage in Orange County-San Diego increased by 83 acres. Oxnard and San Joaquin counted increases in acreage of 148 and 9 acres, respectively. The Santa Maria and Watsonville-Salinas districts saw increases of 442 and 424 acres, respectively.

Oxnard realized a 0.4 percent increase in acreage from 2008 with 44 more acres in 2009. Camarosa and Ventana plantings decreased by 377 and 312 acres respectively. Proprietary varieties dominate the district with 6,934 acres, though it had a 76-acre decrease from 2008. Ventana is the second- largest variety planted at 2,952 acres. Other varieties increased by 318 acres -- or 83 percent -- compared with 2008. Albion increased to 352 acres, up from 211 in 2008. New on the scene this year is San Andreas with 352 acres, accounting for 3 percent of the district.

Michelle Deleissegues, director of marketing for Santa Maria, CA-based Red Blossom Sales Inc., said that his company more than doubled its Albion acreage in Santa Maria this year.

Louis Ivanovich, a principal in Watsonville, CA-based West Lake Fresh, told The Produce News that the Ventana variety was early this year and that West Lake also has been handling some of the Albion and San Andreas varieties from Southern California. This is the first year for San Andreas, a University of California variety, to be on the market in any noticeable commercial volume.

Stuart Gilfenbain, sales director for Oxnard, CA-based Eclipse Berry Farms LLC, said that Ventana accounts for about 60 percent of Eclipse's strawberries in Oxnard. In addition, the company has Albion, San Andreas, Sabrosa, Palomar and some experimental varieties in Oxnard. Albion is second in popularity for Eclipse after Ventana in Oxnard.

Vince Lopes, vice president of sales for Monterey, CA-based Dole Berry Co. LLC, said that the company has more strawberry varieties in Oxnard, CA, this year than at any point in its history.

"I can remember when we were Camarosa exclusively [in Oxnard], and now that's only about 20 percent of our program," Mr. Lopes said.

Matt Kawamura, a founding partner of Irvine, CA-based Orange County Produce, said that the company is working with San Andreas and Palomar in light volumes. Both varieties may come on in competing with Albion -- a sweet day-neutral variety -- that does not handle rain well, he said.

Orange County and San Diego County increased total acres to 1,867, a more than 4 percent change from 2008. Planting of proprietary varieties decreased by 127 acres (or 28 percent). Camarosa had a larger decrease of 199 acres. Albion and other varieties increased by 36 acres and 42 acres, respectively. The largest change was to the Ventana variety with 325 more acres planted for 2009 than the prior year.

The Santa Maria district posted an increase of 813 acres compared with 2008. Albion accounted for 4,876 acres, representing 51 percent of the district. Proprietary varieties and Camino Real make up 18.5 percent and 19 percent of the acreage, respectively.

Camarosa dropped by 385 acres (51 percent), and Ventana decreased by 325 acres (51 prcent). Other varieties increased by 297 acres compared to 2008. Total organic acreage for 2009 was 1,765 acres, a decrease of 78 acres compared with 2008. The organic acreage represents a nearly .5 percent drop in total state acreage compared with 2008.

Fall-planted organic acreage statewide decreased by 118 acres. The largest decrease, 96 acres, was seen in the Watsonville-Salinas district. In 2009, proprietary varieties totaled 1,223 acres or 69 percent of the state's organic acreage. Albion totaled 317 acres or 18 percent.

(For more on Southern California strawberries, see the Feb. 9 issue of The Produce News.)