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Strawberry volume headed toward 7 million trays per week

In mid-March, strawberry growers in California’s Watsonville district were just beginning to pick fruit and join their brethren from Southern and Central California in the business of providing strawberries to all corners of the United States.

Mexico and Florida have increased their respective production in the winter months and are very important producers during the November to February time frame, but once California growers start sniffing spring, the berries load up on the plants and California production is off to the races.

Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director for the California Strawberry Commission, said the supply curve starts to climb quickly throughout March until it reaches its peak, which is usually around mid-April. This year growers and shippers are calling the California strawberry season a “typical” year and estimating that volume figures should come close to mirroring 2014.

Last year, the peak volume came in a seven-week period from mid-April through the end of May. “During that seven-week period, volume topped 7 million trays for six of those weeks,” said O’Donnell. “We didn’t have six consecutive weeks of 7 million trays because one week we dropped to about 6.5 million. But that was the peak,” she said, adding that the April/May time period is when all three of the districts are in heavy production.

As spring moves into summer, volume from Oxnard starts to fall off and the total strawberry volume from the state is diminished a bit, but not that much. O’Donnell said that typically the 6 million tray level is achieved through all of June and most of July. By early to mid-August, 5 million trays are more typical, dropping each week as the summer grows longer. In September the 2 to 3 million tray threshold is typically the volume shipped, which matches early to mid-March shipments. The strawberry supply graph is somewhat of a bell curve that has a steeper incline than decline and the top of the bell remains flat for quite some time.

It was only about 15 years ago when a 4 million tray week was considered to be peak production. Now just about half of the California marketing period sees weeks of 4 million trays of berries or more. While California often has some berries year-round, the main marketing season lasts about 10 months.

Weather, of course, has always been a huge factor in weekly volume numbers. Much of the first half of the season is right in the middle of California’s rainy season. While very few rainy days over the last several years has resulted in few disruptions for strawberry production, that is not always the case. Strawberries are susceptible to rain damage and a good storm can drastically reduce production in the short term. However, as it is mid-March and the rainy season is mostly behind us, observers are fairly confident in their predictions for volume from here on out.

O’Donnell said rain and bad weather are always a potential factor, but she agreed with shippers that 2015 is looking like another big volume year for the industry. In 2014, California growers picked almost 192 million trays of berries. “Our acreage is down a little bit this year but some of the newer varieties yield a little bit more, so it does look like volume is going to be very similar to last year,” she said on March 10.