Organic Strawberries in Short Supply


Organic strawberries are in short supply as Florida was beset with growth-inhibiting cold temperatures in early January and California’s production for 2018 has yet to take off.  These conditions should continue to hold back volume shipments of strawberries until at least the week of Jan. 22, according to one of the nation’s leading strawberry producers.

Cindy Jewell of California Giant Berry Farms, Watsonville, CA, said there are some organic strawberries coming from Mexico, and Cal Giant, as well as some other California shippers, still have some fall organic production under hoops in the Santa Maria and Oxnard, CA districts.  However, she said during early January all strawberries were in a demand exceeds supply situation, and even more so on the organic side.  It is going to take some warm weather in all three production areas (Florida, Mexico and California) to switch the momentum.

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Jewell added that warmer temperatures did hit Florida this week and Oxnard production continued to increase.  She said both Florida and California should see a quick ramp up in volume as February approaches.

California, which produced more than 200 million trays of both conventional and organic strawberries last year for an all-time record, is looking for a similar crop this year.  Planted acreage for harvest over the next nine months has been placed at 27,804 acres, with organic acreage accounting for almost 12 percent of that total.  Add in the forecasted plantings in the summer for fall production and the California Strawberry Commission predicts total acreage at 33,791.  Though that’s about a 10 percent drop from the previous year, the commission anticipates similar volume because of higher yielding varieties.  Jewell confirmed that growers are planting newer varieties and the trend over the past several years has been reduced acreage and increased production.

The commission, on its website, quantifies that a 13 percent decrease in acreage over the past three years has produced a 6 percent increase in production. 

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Jewell said organic production is keeping pace and noted that Cal Giant planted a new 40 acre organic field of strawberries this past fall near Watsonville.  The field is right next to a school, so the firm involved the students in the transitioning process.  For several years, the field remained fallow as it was transitioning to organic production.  In the fall when the field was being planted, Cal Giant invited third graders to help with the process and label their own plants.  The school children are monitoring the progress of the plants and will be rewarded with some of the production once the field begins to be harvested in late spring.

Jewell is confident California’s larger strawberry shippers will keep up with the demand curve for organic strawberries.  She said Cal Giant is identifying company-owned land suitable for transition, which presents the best option because strawberries cannot be grown on the same land several years in a row and  the company must maintain control of the production to make sure the acres devoted to organic cultivation remain compliant.  She added that it is harder to keep up with organic demand on the other berries as they are not annual crops and converting from conventional to organic is a bit more problematic and expensive.

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