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As the new year rang in, Plant City, FL's Wishnatzki Inc. was readying for a deluge of strawberries. Company President Gary Wishnatzki told The Produce News Dec. 29 that the company was about to enter its heaviest production of the season for a two-week period that would run through the middle of January.

The company’s fields survived the freeze events scattered over three weeks of December; production was expected to be frantic the first two weeks of the new year before tapering off for a couple of weeks in a planned lull before ramping up again sometime in February. From there, the company will stretch the season for its "Wish Farms" label berries “as long as there’s a market,” Mr. Wishnatzki said.

“Right now we’re on the verge of busting loose,” he said. The company’s growers did terrific work protecting the crop in December and had “a little luck, too — the weather conditions weren’t the type where we would get massive damage. We had light winds most of the time and were able to freeze-protect. Those temperatures could have really hurt us if it has not been as calm as it was. Mother Nature had a lot to do with it.”

One side benefit of the cold weather is that production of large, long- stemmed Camino Real berries was delayed, meaning there should be plenty of suitable product available for Valentine’s Day.

“We’re anticipating that volume to come on in late January and February and should be able to do a lot of long-stems for Valentine’s Day,” Mr. Wishnatzki said. “The timing should be good for long-stemmed promotions for Valentine’s — that’s unique to us; we’re the only ones to have that variety.”

In January 2010, the company rolled out its “Wish Farms” brand after years on store shelves with the Wishnatzki name (and even more years as Wishnatzki & Nathel from a previous partnership). The move was an instant marketing hit and “we’re really getting good feedback from consumers and chainstore customers,” Mr. Wishnatzki said.

The company also has expanded its organic program to 100 acres of strawberries, as well as organic blueberries in season. Wishnatzki has also moved into the year-round blueberry business, with imports of Chilean blues from a new partnership with a grower in that country.

Wishnatzki also partnered with a grower in California in the Salinas area and for the first time will extend its season with strawberries from that 100-acre farm as the Florida season winds down.

The company also produces winter and spring vegetables, and those categories are growing. After freezing weather in January and February 2010 wiped out Florida row crops, Wishnatzki sought and purchased 600 acres in southwest Florida on Pine Island in Charlotte Harbor, naturally protected from inclement weather.

“That’s a very warm location — its very insulated against freeze problems — and we’ve got our first vegetable crop down there this year, bell peppers and grape tomatoes, that will start harvesting in early February. It’s going to give us year-round supply — winter-time supply we can count on that’s domestic,” Mr. Wishnatzki said. The first planting weathered December’s freezes with no problems, and “the fact that we’re making it through this winter speaks volumes.”

The company continues to receive accolades for its “Fresh QC” quality control system, which is gaining fans throughout the produce industry. And its newly developed “Firetag” laser product marking system will soon receive its first real-world testing on a significant level from a major grower-shipper out west.

“Our 'Fresh QC’ traceability system is continuing to be successful and be very beneficial to our customers and us for maintaining quality and traceability. The ‘Firetag’ model should be up and running in the next few weeks. People who have seen it really believe it’s a very viable solution for solving some of the issues in doing field packs with labels and PTI marking,” said Mr. Wishnatzki. “We’ve got a lot of new things going on.”