WATSONVILLE, Calif. — With more than two weeks left in the year, California strawberry growers were assured of their seventh record-setting year in the last eight seasons.
“It’s an amazing thing — we’re already ahead of where we were at the end of last year,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission.
Producers had turned out a little more than 193 million trays as of Dec. 13, topping the 191 million trays produced in all of 2012, according to the commission.
The production continued an upward trend that began in 2006 with five straight record-setting seasons. A cold and wet spring in 2011 caused the streak to be broken, but growth in production has continued since.
A big reason has been an upsurge in acreage. Growers planted on 40,192 acres this year, up from 37,732 in 2012, O’Donnell said. Another factor was the use of new University of California-developed varieties that yield more fruit per acre, she said.
This year’s production “probably would have been higher had it not been for a really long cold spell in Oxnard last winter that affected production at the beginning of the year,” O’Donnell said.
Strawberries are a year-round fruit in California, as winter harvests move south with the sun. The peak season is in the spring and early summer, when all three 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.
Growers keep planting more acres even as major uncertainties loom, including the phaseout of fumigants that have been industry staples for years. The commission has spent millions of dollars on research into fumigant alternatives, including hosting a roundtable discussion on anaerobic soil disinfestation in October.
“It seems to work really well in places that get really hot, but coastal California is not known for hot temperatures,” O’Donnell said.
Some growers are switching to organic production. Organic acreage went from 1,776 in 2012 to 2,532 acres this year, according to the commission.
California Strawberry Commission: http://www.calstrawberry.com