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Santa Cruz Berry Farming off to a great start with line of organic strawberries

Santa Cruz Berry Farming Co. in Watsonville, CA, was started in February of this year, but its owner, Fritz Koontz, has been farming on his own farms for 16 years and involved in growing for almost 30 years.

“I’ve been in organic production for about 11 years,” said Mr. Koontz. “Prior to starting Santa Cruz Berry Farming I was in partnership with another company that sold berries. I decided to start my own shipping, packing and marketing company. The response from customers has been very good, and things are going well.”

Mr. Koontz also owns a related farming operation, also in Watsonville. Approximately 35 percent to 40 percent of the strawberries he produces are organic.

“I produce eight varieties of strawberries,” he said. “Varieties react differently in microclimates.

“I also partner in a breeding program with Dr. Beth Crandall called Kanaka Peak Research in Watsonville,” he continued. “We develop the varieties and use them for production, and we sell them to other growers in the industry. This enables us to find varieties that are best suited for specific climates.”

Dr. Crandall, the director of research at Kanaka Peak Research, began strawberry breeding in 1988 by utilizing traditional breeding techniques. The emphasis of her program is to achieve production of cultivars with high yield and excellent fruit quality for fresh market production in California.

Research is also being done on raspberries at the research center. Mr. Koontz said he is not producing a crop yet, but he hopes to in the future.

Santa Cruz Berry Farming ships its strawberries to numerous locations in the United States and into Canada. Its strawberries are shipped under the Santa Cruz Berry Farming Co. label.

“Most of our customers are retailers, but we also sell to a couple of wholesalers,” said Mr. Koontz. “Our organic strawberry line runs from April through November. This season’s crop is looking very good. We’ve had decent growing weather. Although it’s been cold and we’ve had some rain issues, the plants have fared well and the fruit looks great. I’m optimistic about having a good season based on the quality we’re seeing.”

Mr. Koontz noted that he expected to see the demand for organic strawberries drop off a bit with the economic downturn, but he hasn’t seen it happen.

“There’s not been a large increase in production of organic product, so that may have to do with the demand on what is available staying steady,” he said. “There has been a slight increase on conventional strawberry production, which seems to meet the increase in demand.”

Mr. Koontz said that overall, the demand for organic strawberries appears to be holding steady, and that he does not see it waning.

“Organic strawberries represent only about five percent of the overall strawberry production,” he added. “I anticipate that demand will stay strong for some time to come.”