Things are looking up for the strawberry industry in California, as growers are increasing acreage and production despite challenges such as the coronavirus.
Growers statewide are expected to have 36,487 planted acres in 2021, up from 34,167 projected for 2020, as this year’s fall plantings for spring and summer production rose 5.7%, according to a new survey by the California Strawberry Commission.
“For 2021, the variety mix continues to evolve, but with more modest changes in yield than were experienced from 2014-2018,” the commission’s report states. “Combined with warm, dry weather patterns common to La Nina conditions, there is a possibility for higher-than-projected volume in early spring (March) to early summer (June).”
Organic strawberries are expected to be planted on 4,684 acres in 2021, up slightly from the 4,625 planted in 2020. Organics represent just under 13% of the statewide total acreage, the commission reports.
Acreage increases have paused 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 projection comes as production in 2020 topped the 202 million trays brought in from fields in the previous year but fell short of the record 223.6 million trays produced in 2018. Nearly 209.2 million trays were harvested for the year as of Dec. 19, according to the commission.
Harvests kept pace despite concerns that COVID-19-related distancing requirements would make it more difficult to keep up, as strawberries have a brief window of ripeness in which they must be picked.
Growers have instituted new procedures in the field to help maintain physical distancing and increased sanitation, and the Strawberry Commission has developed signage, information brochures, videos and radio commercials in Spanish and English to inform employees, CSC spokeswoman Carolyn O’Donnell has said.
Increased acres, higher yielding varieties and optimum weather may help the industry meet high levels of consumer demand expected through 2021, the panel states. In response to this demand, all regions supplying North America have increased planted acres, the commission notes.
The industry hopes this demand will help prices recover, as trays of conventionally produced fresh strawberries averaged $9 from Santa Maria and $11 from Oxnard as of Dec. 22, according to a commission price report. That’s down significantly from a year earlier, when the per-flat averages were $20 and $21, respectively.