Tim Hearden/Capital Press File
WATSONVILLE, Calif. — With a month to go in the year, California strawberry production in 2017 has already surpassed last year’s record total, according to an industry group.
Growers and their crews had brought in 197.3 million crates statewide as of mid-November, topping the 196.8 million crates produced in all of 2016, the California Strawberry Commission reported.
The boom came despite one of the wettest winters on record in 2016-17 and harsh summer heat waves in inland valleys.
“Part of it is definitely due to having the rain,” commission spokeswoman Carolyn O’Donnell said. “Rain was a good thing for the plants. It helped to rinse away some of the salts that have accumulated in the top layer of soil in recent years ... and contributed to overall plant health.”
Another factor in the higher yields was that growers are moving to newer varieties, O’Donnell said. Growers were expected to plant 36,141 acres of strawberries in 2017, down from 40,816 in 2013, according to the commission.
Strawberries are a year-round fruit in California, with harvests essentially following the sun. During the peak season, all of the state’s major growing regions — around Oxnard, Santa Maria and Watsonville — are producing berries. The peak is typically in the spring and early summer, but it came later this year because of the spring rains.
Harvests earlier this year were slowed as big storms pushed seasonal rainfall totals in many coastal areas to about 150 percent of normal. But growers mostly avoided major damage from the storms, industry leaders said.
Production is trending upward again after several years of modest declines coincided with the recent five-year drought. The rebound is good news for growers, as global demand for strawberries is already increasing and new market access to China portends even more exports, Chris Christian, the strawberry commission’s senior vice president, has said.
Per-person consumption of strawberries in the U.S. has been increasing over the last two decades, reaching a record of 7.9 pounds in 2013, according to the USDA-funded Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.
A new survey of primary grocery shoppers published Nov. 21 found that strawberries are America’s favorite fresh fruit. Without the aid of a list, 32 percent of respondents identified strawberries as their favorite fruit, followed by bananas (9 percent) and watermelons (8 percent), according to the strawberry commission.
California is the leading production region in the world, providing nearly 80 percent of the strawberries consumed in the U.S.