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Strawberry growers add acres

Posted: Monday, Jul 21st, 2008


FIRST PHOTO: Field workers harvest strawberries Saturday along Amesti Road. David Carkhuff/Register-Pajaronian SECOND PHOTO: Flats of freshly harvested strawberries await a trip to the cooler at California Giant in Watsonville. Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian


More than 1,000 acres of strawberry fields were added in the state this year, including nearly 700 acres in the Watsonville-Salinas district, the California Strawberry Commission reported.

The Watsonville/Salinas district remains the largest in the state with 38.4 percent of total acreage reported in 2008, or 12,827 acres, the strawberry commission said.

Shippers said they were relieved to avoid a repeat of last year, when cold weather plagued strawberry growers.

“Last year was a difficult year for everybody; there was a lot more cold, there was rain, there was frost,” said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for California Giant Berry Farm. “There were inclement weather conditions throughout the state. This year is the polar opposite of that.”

California Giant picks 60,000 to 70,000 berries a day on 1,000 acres in Watsonville and Salinas, according to Jewell, who said the company has enjoyed a strong spring and summer so far for berry production. It’s too early to declare success, she cautioned.

“Usually, the last few months of the season tell the complete story for the growers,” she said of the April-to-November growing season.

Carolyn O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission in Watsonville, said growers in the Watsonville-Salinas and Oxnard areas harvested more than 5 million trays a week from April through June 21. A tray normally contains 12 one-pint baskets.

Craig Moriyama, vice president of strawberry sales for the Salinas branch of Naturipe Berry Farms LLC of Naples, Fla., said the company’s strawberry acreage has increased 10-20 percent over last year.

“Supplies and quality are good, but demand is down slightly,” he said earlier this month.

“I think retailers are readjusting their inventories because they probably brought in extra before the holiday,” Moriyama said. “We’re at about the same levels as last year, though.”

Valerie Sill, strawberry business manager for Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc. of Watsonville, said the company is urging grocers to use strawberries to promote their entire produce sections.

“We’re reminding retailers and buyers how important berries are and that they can maximize them as they’re moving into more traditional summer fruit,” she said. “We have a great spring with a lot of sales momentum. We’re looking at strong supplies and great quality all the way through mid-August.”

Jewell noted that summertime tests the marketing ability of strawberry producers.

“This is the most difficult time of the year to maintain good prices and good returns back to the grower,” she said, pointing to increased competition in the produce section with tree fruits, melons, grapes and other produce.

In early July, the state’s overall numbers were ahead of 2007’s record-breaking volumes of strawberries, the commission reported.

Total California strawberry acreage continues an upward trend at 35,696 acres for 2008, the commission reported. The reported increase over 2007 is 1,055 acres, or an additional 3 percent.

“We expect to have great numbers of strawberries available through the summer,” said O’Donnell. “The southern districts (Orange County and San Diego) have already exceeded what they did for all of 2007.”

Acres of strawberries planted for 2008 in the Watsonville-Salinas growing area increased by 698 acres or 5.4 percent compared to 2007, the California Strawberry Commission reported.

The Watsonville/Salinas district reported increases of 758 acres of fall-planted acreage and a modest decline of 60 acres in summer-planted acreage for a net gain of 698 acres.

California strawberry acreage planted in the summer produces berries during the fall season. California strawberry acreage planted in the fall produces fruit during the traditional winter, spring and summer seasons.

“We have a long way to go in Watsonville,” Jewell said. “The crop here goes all the way until it starts to rain in November.”

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For information on California strawberries, visit the commission Web site at www.calstrawberry.com.

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(Published in 7/21/08 edition)

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