Calif. strawberry production stays brisk despite drought
WATSONVILLE, Calif. — As strawberry growers in California enter their peak season, production is again on a brisk pace.
Nearly 39.5 million flats of strawberries had been picked and packaged as of last week, compared to about 36.7 million trays at this point last year, according to the California Strawberry Commission.
Last week alone, growers had shipped 6.2 million trays, up from a little more than 5 million trays sent out in the middle week of April last year, said Carolyn O’Donnell, the commission spokeswoman here.
“We’re pretty much on track in terms of when the peak is coming on compared to last year,” O’Donnell said.
The uptick in production comes despite fewer acres planted in 2014, and it results from a lack of torrential storms that can stifle winter production and from new varieties that offer higher yields.
The industry is entering its springtime peak season, as all of the state’s major growing regions — around Watsonville, Santa Maria and Oxnard — are producing berries. About 85 percent of the nation’s strawberries come from California, where the berries are a year-round fruit and winter harvests move south with the sun.
Strawberry growers in the Golden State have set production records in seven of the last eight years, including 194.9 million trays in 2013. Industry insiders feared the drought could cause a lull in production this year, considering that anticipated acreage dipped from 40,816 last year to 39,073 acreage statewide, according to the commission.
The drought increased pressure from mites and other pests and forced growers to irrigate their November plantings at a time when winter rains normally do the trick, O’Donnell said. Growers are using as little water as possible because they have to make it through the entire season and coastal fields are already beginning to see some salts in the soil, she said.
“When we did get rain in March, it was great,” she said. However, the greatest concern remains for Ventura County, where some acreage is projected to be planted in the summer for fall production, she said.
“The picture’s not so clear about how much is going to be planted this summer,” O’Donnell said. “It still remains to be seen if we’re going to have enough water to do summer planting.”
California Strawberry Commission: http://www.calstrawberry.com