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Florida strawberry season off to a solid start, ramping up volume

Early-season disease pressures meant many Florida strawberry farmers had to replant much of their crop, but unseasonably warm weather — even by Sunshine State standards — has helped the deal catch up and approach full volume in its traditional mid-December window.

“We had some disease issues in the fields early this year. A lot of plants had to be replaced, which set some people back a little, but generally we’re up and running,” Florida Strawberry Growers Association Executive Director Ted Campbell said in early December. Strawberry-crop-report-2Despite an early setback that forced many growers to replant, warm weather has helped the Florida strawberry deal catch up to its normal mid-December volume.“We’re getting a little volume now. I’m seeing picking crews out in the morning on my way to work and that’s encouraging. Typically it’s mid-December before we’re hitting volume.”

Acreage remains stable from 2012-13, and all indicators are the Florida deal is heading for at least a normal season, though “every year’s different, there’s nothing predictable, other than our varieties getting better and we’re certainly doing the right thing from that side of the equation,” Campbell said. “We’re growing some amazing stuff in a sandbox basically. When you look at what the Florida growers accomplish it’s pretty impressive. We’re happy with demand from consumers and we’re giving them better fruit every year.”

“We’re pretty flat on acreage mainly because nobody made any money last year; it was a tough financial year. Just maintaining what we had is enough of a challenge,” Campbell said. “We can make things better, but if these growers can’t make money at it we’re just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I’d hate to think that we can’t help these guys become more profitable with a highly desirable product knowing the way they’re dedicated to growing and making fruit in the wintertime and working in our crummy sandy soil and all the other stuff they put up with.”

A relative newcomer to the Florida strawberry deal, the Radiance, developed at the University of Florida and released in 2008, has quickly claimed the lion’s share of the crop. Over the last couple of seasons, Radiance has pushed out the former category leader, Festival, which had dominated the deal since its release in 2000.

“We are heavy to Radiance this year, at least 60-70 percent of the crop,” Campbell said. “Festival had more than a lifetime, it lasted longer than most of the other commercial varieties anyway, and Radiance picks more per acre and a lot of growers pay a lot of attention to that. You’re looking for early yields, you’re looking to maintain size throughout the season, you’re looking for flavor, aroma, shelf life and Radiance provides all that.”

An even newer player, the Winterstar, released in 2011, “probably has 10 percent of the action,” with the rest of the crop comprised of stalwarts like Festival, Treasure and Camino Real. Meanwhile another newcomer, Sensation, released this year, is poised to become the new frontrunner based on a handful of acres in production this season, Campbell said.