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California strawberry acreage statewide slips back to 2008 levels

by Brian Gaylord | February 03, 2010
Reduced strawberry acreage statewide — most notably in Southern California other than the Oxnard district — combined with inclement weather in January, has foreshadowed what projected to be a disappointing Valentine's Day pull for grower-shippers in the Southern California strawberry deal.

But hope springs eternal, and springtime strawberry volumes for Easter and beyond may make up for an apparent Valentine’s Day massacre.

Craig Casca, chief executive officer of Santa Maria, CA-based Red Blossom Sales Inc., told The Produce News Jan. 22 that he anticipated that he would have only 65 percent of the strawberry volume he had hoped for Valentine’s Day.

Inclement weather on both coasts had made crop-volume predictions challenging, especially since customers "look for direction on prices," Mr. Casca said.

Heavy, persistent rainfall in Southern California beginning in mid-January and running into late January prevented much strawberry harvesting during that time frame. And breaks from the rain were short-lived. The rainfall left grower-shippers waiting into the week of Jan. 25 to assess damage to the strawberries.

The good news is that once the damaged berries were stripped away, hearty strawberry plants generally would benefit from the rain. Projections from a number of grower-shippers had the strawberry harvest getting back on track quickly once the rains stopped. But the Valentine’s Day pull generally was set for early February, and as of early in the week of Jan. 25, most grower- shippers still hadn’t yet had a chance to assess the damage to their crop. They just knew that supplies for Valentine’s Day would be very tight.

Louis Ivanovich, a principal in Watsonville, CA-based West Lake Fresh, told The Produce News Jan. 26 that uncooperative weather had prevented shippers from going out and ramping up interest among retailers.

Easter comes a bit early this year, falling on April 4, but there’s hope that there will be plenty of berries available from Southern California growing districts. A later Easter — such as last year’s April 12 date — generally lends itself to greater strawberry supplies.

The California strawberry 2010 acreage survey on the California Strawberry Commission’s web site shows that total California strawberry acreage stood at 36,943 acres for 2010 — 1,692 fewer acres and representing a more than 4 percent drop from 2009.

The overall 4 percent drop brings the state’s overall strawberry acreage back in line with 2008 levels, when acreage stood at 36,519.

Fall plantings that produce fruit during the winter, spring and summer seasons decreased statewide by 2,147 acres, or 6 percent. Acreage in Orange County/San Diego decreased by 552 acres. Oxnard announced an increase in acreage of 627 acres. Santa Maria, Watsonville/Salinas and San Joaquin districts announced acreage decreases of 1,390, 830 and two acres, respectively.

California strawberry acreage projected for summer 2010 — which harvests during the fall season — would represent an increase of 3,174 acres, or more than 16 percent, compared to 2009. All of the summer planted acreage is located in Oxnard and Santa Maria. Oxnard announced an increase of 207 acres, and Santa Maria announced an increase of 249 acres.

Orange County/San Diego, Watsonville/Salinas and San Joaquin announced no summer planted acreage. Summer planted acreage for 2010 was listed as 8.6 percent of the state total, compared with 7 percent in 2009.

University of California varieties represent nearly 61 percent of the state’s acreage, and proprietary varieties represent 39 percent. The Albion variety decreased from 39.5 percent in 2009 to just over 34 percent of the total in 2010.

The Ventana variety decreased to 3,216 acres from 4,087 acres in 2009. Camino Real decreased to 1,625 acres in 2010 and represents more than 4 percent of the state total. Other varieties combined to contribute 2,219 acres — 6 percent — of the state’s total acreage for 2010.

Orange County and San Diego decreased total acres to 1,327, a nearly 30 percent drop in acreage from 2009. The Ventana variety experienced the greatest change, decreasing by 375 acres for 2010. The Camarosa variety decreased by 142 acres. Other varieties decreased by 275 acres.

The Oxnard district announced a more than 7 percent increase in acreage from 2009 with 835 more acres in 2010. Ventana — the second-largest variety planted in Oxnard — is using 2,592 acres, a decrease of 188 acres. Proprietary varieties account for 6,805 acres and had a 289-acre increase from 2009. Other varieties decreased by 194 acres, or 18 percent, compared to 2009. San Andreas increased to 1,025 acres, nearly 9 percent of the Oxnard district.

The Santa Maria district announced a decrease of 1,141 acres compared with 2009. Albion was announced at 4,704 acres, representing nearly 49 percent of the district. Proprietary variety acreage and Camino Real acreage make up nearly 24 percent and nearly 17 percent of the acreage, respectively. The category of “other” varieties decreased by 653 acres compared with 2009.

The Watsonville/Salinas district remains the largest in the state with more than 41 percent of total acreage announced in 2010. Acreage decreased by 829 acres, or more than 5 percent, compared with 2009. Albion was announced at 7,726 acres, or more than 55 percent, of the district. Proprietary varieties represent more than 38 percent of the district, a slight increase from 2009. The San Andreas variety was announced at 611 acres; “other” varieties increased by 71 acres compared with 2009.

Total organic acreage announced for 2010 was 1,655 acres, a decrease of 110 acres compared with 2009. The announced organic acreage represents 4.5 percent of total state acreage, a slight drop from 2009.

Santa Maria increased its fall-planted organic acreage by 28 acres, Orange County/San Diego decreased by eight acres, and Oxnard increased by 51 acres.

Fall-planted organic acreage statewide increased by 157 acres. The largest increase, 86 acres, was seen in the Watsonville/Salinas district. Projected summer planted organic acreage decreased by 278 acres — 100 percent — compared to 2009 as all districts announced no summer planted acreage. In 2010, proprietary organic varieties totaled 1,079 acres, or 65 percent, of the state’s announced organic acreage. Albion leads the way with 383 acres, or 23 percent.

The Monterey and San Andreas varieties account for more than 1 percent and 2 percent, respectively, of the state’s organic total.

(For more on Southern California strawberries, see the Feb. 8, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)