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Santa Cruz expects strong, high quality fall program out of Watsonville and Santa Maria

“We have what looks to be a later-than-average season for us” in Watsonville, CA, so for the fall period this year “we are going to have a lot of nice fruit out of Watsonville, CA,” in addition to summer plantings specifically for the fall harvest in Santa Maria, CA, said Fritz Koontz, owner and president of Santa Cruz Berry Farming Co. LLC in Watsonville.

The company’s fields in Watsonville were at peak production when The Produce News talked to Koontz July 24. He expected the peak harvest to last a few months. “We will pick till October or November, and that will overlap” with the company’s fall program in Santa Maria.

The Santa Maria harvest “will probably start mid- to late September” and continue through to the end of the year, “weather permitting,” he said.

The varieties Santa Cruz is growing are mainly Albion and Monterey, but in addition “we have some experimental varieties we are trying,” Koontz said. “They are not named yet.”

All of the varieties are “very good tasting” and very good quality, he said.

The season, so far, “has been pretty good,” he said. Markets were strong in May and June and “even through the Fourth of July.” For a couple of weeks after the Fourth, things slowed down a little, which is typical. “But I expect the market to perk back up here. It usually does by the end of July or beginning of August.”

Santa Cruz will not have any berries out of the Oxnard district this year, Koontz said. “Santa Maria seems to serve the same purpose for us.”

The company’s acreage is about the same as last year. “We’ve found acreage that works for us and our customer base,” he said.

In addition to being set up for some good volume for the fall period this year, Koontz said he is expecting good quality. “We have some very good quality-control systems in place,” Koontz said. “A lot of times in the late summer and fall” it can be “a little more difficult” to maintain the same quality as earlier in the season. “But the way we are set up, most of our plantings come in later, and they are also, most of them, near the ocean where it is cooler.” So the entire operation “is set up to have good quality all the way through, including late summer and fall.”

Those factors work to the benefit of the Santa Cruz berry program for the late season. “From this point on is where we normally have a competitive advantage, just because of the way we are set up in our plantings” and in the location of the fields, Koontz said. “We take great pride in our quality on both the organic and the conventional” fruit.