While a heavy dose of California rain during the first quarter of 2023 has put the state’s strawberry production behind the three-year average, the month of April saw significant increases in production—and volume is poised to spike this month.
“We are about two weeks behind in terms of our peak volume, but we are catching up quickly,” said Jeff Cardinale, director of communications for the California Strawberry Commission. “It all depends on the weather. If it stays warm and sunny, volume will come on quickly.”
Jeff Cardinale, Director of Communication, California Strawberry Commission
During each of the first three weeks of April, organic strawberry volume doubled from the previous week, Cardinale said. As a result, during the last full week of April, shippers sent more than 250,000 cartons to market, making it the best week of the year to date.
However, that is still significantly lower than last year. During the month of April in 2022, about two million trays of organic strawberries had been marketed compared to less than 900,000 this year. Last year, strawberry growers put at least 440,000 organic trays into the marketplace each week from the end of April into the second week of September, with the peak shipping week being mid-June with more than one million trays. This year, the 500,000-tray-per-week level will hit during the second week of May for the first time.
“We are about two weeks behind in terms of our peak volume, but we are catching up quickly.” - Jeff Cardinale
“At this point, it appears it will be mid-June to late June before we hit our peak on organics,” said Cardinale.
While there was definitely damage to the overall California strawberry crop from the flooding, the CSC spokesperson said it should not be overstated. “Across the state, we estimated that 5 percent of strawberry farms were affected by the flooding, and they did have damage,” he said. “But 95 percent of the farms were unaffected, and for those growers the rains were beneficial.”
While it is much too early to predict total volume for the season, which will stretch into November, it’s possible that heavier yields from the unaffected fields will make up for the volume losses from the flooded fields.
For the California strawberry industry, Cardinale said Mother’s Day (May 14 this year) tends to be a benchmark event. “Typically, by Mother’s Day, 95 percent of the strawberries sold in the US come from California, and that will again be the case this year.”
“At this point, it appears it will be mid-June to late June before we hit our peak on organics.” - Jeff Cardinale
Speaking specifically of organic strawberry production, Cardinale said one in four California strawberry farms produces organic berries, accounting for about 10 percent of California’s crop. “And there are more organic strawberries grown in California than anywhere else in the world,” Cardinale said.
One shipper touting the current California strawberry crop is Watsonville, CA-based California Giant Berry Farms. In a press release during the last week of April, the shipper noted that right on time for the Mother’s Day holiday and National Strawberry Month, the company was on track to deliver peak promotable volumes from its Oxnard, Santa Maria, Watsonville, and Salinas growing regions.
Tom Smith, Director of Sales, California Giant Berry Farms
Director of Sales Tom Smith said, “We’re currently headed into peak organic supply and will remain at large promotable volumes through June.” Organic volumes are coming from both the Santa Maria growing region and the Watsonville/Salinas region.
California Giant offers both one-pound and two-pound organic pack sizes. “One-pound clamshells are the most common size. Two-pounders are more common for club stores, although some retailers with good organic movement do switch to two-pound organics throughout the peak of production,” Smith said.
In its press release, California Giant did acknowledge the early season difficulties, but indicated the issues are in the rearview mirror. “Our season hasn’t been without challenges,” said Andy Rice, vice president of field operations and product supply for the grower-shipper. “Unseasonably cold [temperatures], rain, and flooding impacted our California growing regions early on. But despite this, the plants are healthy and are ready for a strong season—which translates into the high-quality, sizable, and flavorful fruit.”
“We’re currently headed into peak organic supply and will remain at large promotable volumes through June.” - Tom Smith
California Giant reported that the Oxnard and Santa Maria districts are reporting significant week-over-week increases, while the Watsonville and Salinas growing areas are seeing exponential growth, with estimates projecting substantial increases in harvested volumes in the next five weeks. Due to the area’s late start, production curves have been shifted, with the company forecasting fruit available late into summer.