Strawberries unique in more ways than one

More than 33,500 acres are planted to strawberries in California.

Consider this: You are a contestant on a national television show and it’s your turn to get the question. The lights dim and the audience is quiet.

“What is the only fruit with seeds on the outside?”

If you answered “Strawberries!” You would be right. Step up and claim your prize.

But there are more unique qualities to the bright red fruit than its seeds.

“Most strawberries grown in California are grown along the Pacific Coast, with mild days and cool nights making the best growing climate for strawberries,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director of the California Strawberry Commission. “Although strawberries are planted throughout California, acreage is concentrated on the Pacific Coast between Santa Cruz and Ventura counties.”

For the 2018 season, about 33,791 acres are planted to strawberries in California. This is an estimate, as a portion of the acreage is a projection of what will be planted this fall. Some new varieties planted recently include Monterey and San Andreas.

There is a variety of pests that infest and cause damage to the strawberry plants, O’Donnell said.

“Strawberry farmers use a number of tools, including IPM (integrated pest management) to control disease and insects,” she said. “They even use a bug vacuum to control lygus bugs.”

The bug, also called tarnished plant bug, causes serious damage in fruit. It carries fire blight disease, which they spread throughout the area as they feed.

“Fire blight is a devastating disease that is difficult to control,” she said.

Strawberries continuously bloom and produce fruit during the entire season, unlike tree fruit, and require more attention. Some growers say that growing strawberries is more like gardening, rather than farming.

The tiny strawberry, called the “queen of fruit” in Asia, is packed with Vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants and are cholesterol free, low in calories and help reduce inflammation and even whiten teeth.

Studies show that eating one serving (eight medium) strawberries a day can help support cardiovascular health and brain health.

There are also many challenges facing strawberry growers throughout the state.

“Strawberries are hand planted, hand weeded and hand harvested, which requires a large number of workers,” O’Donnell said. “A viable guestworker program would help with consistent care and harvest of the strawberry crop.”

The H-2A guestworker program allows farmers to bring in crews from Mexico and elsewhere, but the program is expensive and difficult to work with, according to growers.

Automating the harvest with machinery is complex, as the berries have to be harvested when ripe, without bruising the berry, damaging the plant, and leaving the unripe berries undisturbed.”

“On the positive side, strawberry farmers have invested millions of dollars in ways to develop and improve sustainable farming practices,” she said. “California strawberry farmers were among the first to adopt IPM practices, drip irrigation and a commodity-specific food safety program.”

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