Although statewide production in 2019 fell short of another record, the California strawberry industry is optimistic that 2020 will bring huge volumes during the spring and early-summer peak season.
That’s because of an anticipated slight increase in acreage. Fall plantings, which will produce fruit during the traditional winter, spring and summer months, were reported at 26,928 acres for 2020, up from 25,868 last year, according to the California Strawberry Commission.
“With normal weather patterns 2020 California strawberry volume is expected to reach record levels from Easter to Independence Day,” the commission declared in its annual acreage report in December.
Summer plantings for fall production will continue its upward trend of recent years, reaching 7,185 acres this year, up from 7,089 in 2019, the survey predicts.
Over the past five years, higher-yielding varieties have enabled growers to achieve record production despite decreasing acres. While 2019 was expected to continue the trend, an unseasonable rainstorm in late May followed by an early June heat wave disrupted production, the survey noted.
Storm ‘took it all out’
On Peter Navarro’s farm in Watsonville, berries were reaching their peak sizes when the rains came and “took it all out,” he said. The rain also affected pollination, causing crooked fruit, Navarro said.
“We were throwing away a lot of fruit,” he said.
In all, strawberry producers statewide shipped 201.9 million trays in 2019, down from 224.5 million in 2018 and 206 million in 2017, according to the commission.
Production levels in 2020 are projected to surpass 2019 levels as high-quality California strawberries are expected to be widely available starting in April, the survey notes. Weekly production totals statewide could approach 10 million trays in late May, according to the survey.
Organic strawberries are expected to be planted on 4,204 acres in 2020, up slightly from 4,063 acres last year, the survey reports.
Acreage in decline
The projected acreage increases pause a recent trend of declining plantings; there were 31,640 acres planted for spring and summer production and 6,460 acres in fall production in 2015.
The acreage drop reflects the increasing difficulty of producing strawberries amid persistent labor shortages and the elimination of methyl bromide. So growers are gravitating to more prolific varieties developed by the University of California Cooperative Extension, other agencies and private companies.
Among the more poular new varieties are the UC-developed Monterey and San Andreas strawberries, both of which are “day-neutral” varieties that are more tolerant of summer heat and more resistant to diseases.