Fresh strawberry production in California is off to a faster start than in the rain-drenched early months of 2017 as the sector gears up for its peak late-spring and early-summer season.
As of March 24, crews had harvested nearly 11.88 million flats so far in 2018, according to the California Strawberry Commission. Most of that picking has occurred in the Oxnard area, where just over 9 million crates had been produced.
The statewide total topped the 10.8 million flats that had been brought in from fields at this point in 2017, but it was well behind the 16.5 million flats were produced as of mid-March, the commission reports.
Commission spokeswoman Carolyn O’Donnell says she expects the totals to lag a bit in the next couple of weeks, as big rains in recent days have slowed harvests. The Oxnard area sopped up 2.58 inches of rain on March 21-22, according to the National Weather Service.
But the numbers should pick up again quickly as the peak season begins later in April, O’Donnell says. Rain can slow harvests as growers wait for waterlogged berries to dry and discard any that are damaged, but the early spring conditions can also bring some of the year’s biggest and juiciest berries, growers say.
Strawberries are a year-round fruit in California, with farms in San Diego and Orange counties, the Coachella Valley and the Oxnard area producing berries in the winter months. Production reaches its peak when all three of the state’s prime growing areas – around Oxnard, Santa Maria and Watsonville – begin producing berries.
So far, Santa Maria has produced about 2.4 million flats of berries – a small down payment on the 66.8 million flats that came from the region in 2017 -- while the Watsonville and Salinas areas have just gotten started with 95,160 flats. The northern region produced 102 million flats last year, according to the commission.
Slow starts to the year don’t worry growers. Production in both 2016 and 2017 went on to post records after lagging because of winter rains. Last year’s total of 206 million flats was considerably better than the 196.8 million brought in from fields in 2016, which was then a record.
A big reason for the increases is that growers have been switching to new, higher-yielding varieties while some are also planting more strawberries in the summer for fall production. Growers expect to plant 27,804 acres this year statewide, down from the 33,648 acres planted in 2014. They are projected to plant 5,988 acres in the summer for fall production, up from the 5,289 acres planted in the summer of 2014, the commission reports.