Robust strawberry markets should start to weaken as production ramps up in January from all three major growing areas.

Kyla Oberman, marketing manager for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, said Southern California could begin shipping as soon as the week of Dec. 15 and Mexican volumes were steadily increasing in mid-December.

Production was slow to pick up in Florida thanks to cool weather, Oberman said, but that was likely set to change the week of Dec. 22.

“Ample, promotable supplies are on the way in the next few weeks, and the crops are in great shape,” Oberman said Dec. 18.

Strawberry volumes in Mexico and Florida should pick up by the week of Dec. 29, said Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing for Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Berry Farms.

Oxnard should follow with volume in mid-January, Jewell said.

“With all three districts in production, the sales group is looking forward to having promotable volume on strawberries in January.”

A break from California’s crippling drought has been much appreciated, said Charlie Staka, director of sales for Watsonville, Calif.-based CBS Farms. But it has thrown a wrench in the Golden State strawberry deal.

“The rain has been welcome, but it’s also put a damper on harvests, especially in Oxnard.”

Cooler temperatures in the Oxnard growing area also have slowed production, Staka said.

And in addition to production challenges in California, volumes from Mexico and Florida in mid-December weren’t picking up enough of the slack.

“There doesn’t seem to be enough for the demand,” Staka said. “With California so short, it doesn’t really matter.”

On Dec. 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $28 for flats of 1-pound cartons of medium and large strawberries from Oxnard, up from $24-26 last year at the same time and up from the 5-year average of $21.

Cartons of Florida strawberries were $26.90-28.90, up from $18.90-20.90 last year.

The quality and size profile of fruit shipping from Oxnard in mid-December, however, were good, Staka said.

More seasonally normal strawberry volumes won’t likely hit until mid-January, when Mexico, Florida and new California volumes begin coming on, all around the same time, said Louis Ivanovich, a partner in Watsonville-based West Lake Fresh.

“We’ll start to see some large promos then.”

With soaring prices in December, Ivanovich hopes retailers have the patience to wait until volumes are adequate to promote in January.

“I hope there’s a smooth transition to volume.”

Craig Casca, chief executive officer and director of sales for Red Blossom Sales Inc., Salinas, Calif., was more optimistic about markets “settling down” earlier than mid-January.

“California should start ramping up by Jan. 1 with volume from all three regions,” Casca said Dec. 16. “Mexico is ramping up this week and will have plenty of supply. Florida will be the end of next week probably before they ramp up.”

The December rains have not only helped growers long-term, Ivanovich said. The overcast skies and subsequent warmer nights should be good for new-crop production.

And early reports from other growing areas also bodes well.

“We’ve seen nice product from Central Mexico, Orange County and Baja, which leads us to believe the plant stock is in pretty good shape.”

California volumes could start increasing for CBS late the week of Dec. 22 or in early January, as growers leave fall crops in the rearview mirror and begin new-crop harvests, Staka said.

“As soon as things dry up a little bit and we can get in there and harvest, we’ll get off to the races.”

Prices should start to come down slowly at the end of December and, by January, begin to stabilize as Oxnard’s spring crop comes on, Staka said.

CBS expects to be able to promote “in light volume” in January, he said.