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Industry giant Dole is now in its third season of growing strawberries in Florida. The company doubled its acreage in the state last season, and production is expected to increase again this year.

"We have acreage near Plant City and other locations about a half-hour south, growing a mix of proprietary, Radiance, Festival and Treasure strawberries," said Vincent Lopes, vice president of Monterey, CA-based Dole Berry Co.

Mr. Lopes said that Dole preferred not to disclose total strawberry acreage under production in Florida but that last year's acreage was “slightly above double” 2009 and that performance has warranted future increases in acreage and volume.

Initially, Dole executives thought expansion of its Florida operations would move more slowly. In December 2008, Mr. Lopes told The Produce News, “It [is] our intent to start with a small- to medium-size program our first year, with plans to gradually expand the business when prudent.”

Like all Florida growers, Dole’s December crop was hindered by multiple nights of sub-freezing weather spread across three weeks of the month.

Some growers recorded temperatures as low as 17 degrees in fields in the center of the state near Plant City, where 90 percent of America’s winter strawberries are grown.

An unusually strong Artic Oscillation — a winter weather pattern involving air masses above eastern Canada and the U.S. Northeast — persisted through the month of December, meaning Arctic air heading across the Dakotas toward the northeastern United States instead was diverted southward, bringing frosty temperatures as far south as Homestead.

But a La Nina weather pattern is expected to set in as the Arctic Oscillation breaks up, according to meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Tampa. That should reposition the high jet stream north of Interstate 4, which runs east-west across Florida from Daytona Beach to Tampa Bay, resulting in warm, dry weather in January and February.

Losses to the crop were minimal in December, since weather conditions favored mitigation efforts despite the extreme cold, and production has already returned to normal at Dole’s Florida farms.

“I tend to always believe and have faith in the power of the crop, and sooner or later, it always comes through,” he said. “While the start has been much rougher than expected, we should track adequately from here on out.”

Dole Berry Co. grows and ships strawberries year round from multiple locations. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc. in Monterey, CA.

Dole Fresh Vegetables partners with independent growers, many of whom have been Dole growers for decades, to ensure compliance with Good Agricultural Practices and to comply with the company’s Grower Stewardship program.