By TIM HEARDEN
WATSONVILLE, Calif. -- Strawberry producers in 2012 enjoyed their sixth record-breaking season in the past seven years, maintaining an upward trajectory of production that defies the challenges facing their industry.
The Golden State's 37,732 acres of strawberry fields turned out 190.5 million trays this past year, obliterating the 2010 mark of 181 million trays produced, according to the California Strawberry Commission.
Production continued on a record pace for much of the year after a cold and wet spring in 2011 ended a five-year streak of record-setting seasons. Producers picked and shipped about 178.2 million trays in 2011.
"We had some great weather this year," commission spokeswoman Carolyn O'Donnell said. "We continue to have new varieties that produce more fruit per acre."
Strawberries are a year-round fruit in California, as winter harvests move south with the sun. Typically from May until about July, all three of the state's major strawberry regions -- around Watsonville, Santa Maria and Oxnard -- are shipping berries. California produces 85 percent of the nation's strawberries.
Growers keep planting more acres even as major uncertainties loom, including new groundwater regulations and the phaseout of fumigants that have been industry staples for decades. Increasingly, industry insiders and University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisors believe strawberry operations in the Golden State will be fumigant-free within a few years, although they're not yet sure how to get there.
The strawberry commission estimates that 40,192 acres will produce berries in 2013. Organic acreage is expected to jump to 2,360 this year from 1,722 acres in 2012.
O'Donnell said many conventional growers have been adopting some organic practices and going fully organic in some of their acreages.
"I think the growers are always optimistic," she said of the challenges ahead. "I don't know how you could be a farmer nowadays without being optimistic. They apparently think this year of 2013 should be another good year for them. We'll see. The weather always dictates to a large degree what happens."
California Strawberry Commission: www.calstrawberry.com