Fall strawberries ramp up

Fall strawberries ramp up

Strawberry lovers will be happy to hear that a new crop of summer-planted California berries is just around the corner.

Even as the Watsonville crop starts to wind down, about 7,000 acres in Oxnard and Santa Maria are ready to come into production for fall harvest, said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director for the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission.

Picking should start in late September and continue through October and into November.

Summer-planted acreage for fall production is up about 10% from last year, according to acreage figures on the commission’s website.    

The fall harvest will come from fresh plants producing new fruit from the summer planting, so it should bring large-size berries and great quality, like the start of the spring harvest, she said.

Watsonville’s summer harvest usually continues until fall rains arrive, but the region typically is finished by November.

Short-day strawberry varieties are commonly used for fall/winter production, when sunlight is at a premium, O’Donnell said.

Portola is the main public variety planted this season, she said. But she pointed out that about half the volume comes from proprietary varieties.

Strawberry movement in California is running behind previous years because of rain and cold weather during the winter and spring, which delayed picking and caused some plants to be stripped of their fruit, O’Donnell said.    

As of Aug. 3, the state’s strawberry growers had harvested 131,177,156 trays of strawberries.

At the same time in 2018, the figure was 148,050,227 trays, and in 2017 it was 138,146,202 trays.

“We are behind where we were at this time last year,” she said.

It won’t be known how close 2019 volume will come to previous years “until it starts raining and it’s the end of the year,” O’Donnell said.

Typically, half the year’s crop is harvested by July 1, she said.

F.o.b. prices so far this season have been a bit erratic.

“Having a little bit less acreage and a little bit less volume has helped support better prices for growers, but it’s been up and down,” O’Donnell said.

The second week of August, trays of eight 1-pound clamshell containers of small/medium berries were mostly $7-8, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A year earlier, they were mostly $5-6.

“I think everyone has been pretty happy so far this year,” O’Donnell said. 

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