Driscoll looks forward to another big Fla. strawberry season
by Chip Carter | January 03, 2011
For 107 years, Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc. has specialized in berries
and nothing but.
In 1904, friends Joseph (Ed) Reiter and R.O. Driscoll decided to work together,
growing Sweet Briar strawberries in California's Panjaro Valley. A half-century
later, the business they founded became Driscoll Strawberry Associates. Flash
forward another 50 years and Watsonville, CA-based Driscoll, still family
owned and operated, has become one of the world’s great berry brands.
The first associate farmers joined the Driscoll group in California in the
1940s. Now the company grows proprietary berries year round in central and
Southern California, Florida, central Mexico and Baja California.
Driscoll’s Florida operations are headquartered in Dover, on the outskirts of
Plant City, the winter strawberry capital of the world and home to 90 percent
of Florida’s strawberry production.
Last year, Driscoll increased its Florida acreage by about 10 percent,
according to Mark Greeff, the firm’s Eastern region vice president and general
manager. The company does not disclose exact totals of the acreage it farms
in the state, but production is expected to increase again this season.
Cold weather in December put a crimp in the start of Driscoll’s Florida
season. For the past three years, that has been an unusual factor that all
Florida strawberry growers have had to deal with. In 2008, central Florida
experienced more than 30 nights of sub-freezing temperatures, an unlikely
and unwelcome occurrence. In January and February 2010, the area had even
more cold weather, with as many as a dozen consecutive sub-freezing nights
in prime strawberry growing areas. December 2010 was the coldest on record
for Florida, and the hard freeze of Dec. 6 was the earliest in the season ever
to frost the state.
Still, "We are very upbeat about this season," Mr. Greef said in late December.
“It looks very promising to us. We have had a strong start. Outside of this
sudden cold weather, we feel very good about the coming season.”
With a La Nina weather pattern indicating a warmer, drier winter, Driscoll is
poised for a banner January and February for its Florida strawberry crop.
The Driscoll crop is all proprietary berries, and has been for 70 years.
Research and development teams use natural breeding methods without
genetic modification or irradiation to create patented varieties that are more
resistant to pests and pathogens while meeting stringent quality standards
for flavor and appearance.
“We are entirely a proprietary program,” Mr. Greeff said. “We breed varieties
specifically for the Florida climate that fit into different parts of the season, so
we have been picking fruit since Thanksgiving, and we expect to have
reasonable volumes of fruit all the way through the end of the season around
He concluded, “We have no complaints. The market seems to be more upbeat
than it was a year ago. The economy seems to be rebounding nicely, and
people are eating strawberries.”