Newer varieties gain acreage across California
By TIM HEARDEN
Favorable weather and several hot new varieties pushed California strawberry production to another record-setting year in 2010.
Producers had shipped more than 181 million trays for the year as of Dec. 18, well above the 174.4 million flats shipped in 2009, according to the California Strawberry Commission.
The yield increased despite a dip in acreage, from 38,634 acres planted in 2009 to 37,609 in 2010. A commission survey found that 37,425 acres have been planted to strawberries for 2011, said Carolyn O'Donnell, the commission's spokeswoman.
"What we're finding is that even though our acreage is down a little bit over the previous year, our yield is up," O'Donnell said. "We had great weather and newer varieties that are better producers ... producing more per acre."
Among the newer varieties is Albion, a University of California-created berry that makes up a fair percentage of the acreage that's not in proprietary varieties, O'Donnell said.
Another variety, called San Andreas, is starting to gain acreage, too, she said. About 40 percent of varieties grown in California are proprietary, meaning they're grown for specific labels, she said.
In all, strawberry growers had turned out 181.3 million flats of fresh strawberries as of Dec. 18. Two years ago, producers shipped about 152.7 million trays.
At most times of the year, someone is picking strawberries somewhere in California. The harvest essentially follows the sun, wintering in southern California and moving north as the year progresses.
There are two main planting periods -- summer and fall. The summer plantings produce berries in the fall and winter, while fall plantings produce in the spring, summer and early fall, O'Donnell said.
Production in the Watsonville and Salinas Valley areas is essentially wrapped up for this season, while picking has shifted south to the Santa Maria and Oxnard areas, she said. Berries in Orange County and San Diego should be coming in soon, she said.
The commission does not measure the profitability of its members, although O'Donnell has said it's "a mixed bag" that depends on the grower's business model.
Growers are perhaps benefiting from recent studies that detail the health benefits of strawberries.
Data in 2007 from the Women's Health Study at Brigham Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that women who consumed a few servings of strawberries each week were less likely to have elevations of a protein linked to heart disease in their blood.
Findings from clinical studies at the University of California-Davis and the National Center of Safety Technology found other heart health and metabolic benefits from eating strawberries, such as helping the body's insulin work better.
California Strawberry Commission: http://californiastrawberries.com