Strawberry volumes fall in AugustStrawberry supplies are starting to decline as grower-shippers prepare for the shift to Southern California production.

Salinas, Calif.-based Red Blossom Sales Inc. was sourcing from Santa Maria and Salinas in mid-August, said Craig Casca, chief executive officer and director of sales.

Supplies were tapering off from earlier in the summer, which was strengthening markets, Casca said.

Mark Yotsuya, salesman for Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Inc., agreed.

“Volumes are down slighlty, and demand is good,” he said.

Yotsuya cited typical late-season declines, not weather, as the main reason for the lower volumes. Well-Pict will source from Watsonville exclusively until its Oxnard, Calif., deal kicks in at the end of September or beginning of October.

Yotsuya reported “pretty decent” quality and smaller sizes as the Watsonville deal began to wind down in August.

California shippers will likely ship about 4 million trays per week in August, typically lower volumes as the Watsonville deal winds down, said Chris Christian, vice president of marketing for the California Strawberry Commission.

More production is expected out of the fall Santa Maria and Oxford deals, due to higher acreage, Christian said.

About 391 acres of fall strawberries were harvested in Santa Maria in 2009. That's expected to rise to 1,435 acres this season, said Claire Wineman, president of the Guadalupe, Calif.-based Grower Shippers Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

"We generally expect people to be winding down, but it's different now" with the higher fall acreage, Wineman said.

Wineman reported good quality and strond demand in the first half of August.

“Demand seems to be pretty good, and we expect it to continue for the fall crop," Christian said.

On Aug. 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $13-14 for flats of 12 1-pint baskets of medium and large strawberries from California’s Salinas Valley, up from $12-13 last year at the same time.

Flats of eight 1-pound containers with lids of medium and large berries were $9-10, comparable to last year at the same time.

“Volumes are kind of off a little bit,” he said. “The quality’s good but not fantastic. We’re diverting a lot to the freezer.”

California growers shipped about 800,000 cartons per day the week of Aug. 5. By the week of Aug. 12, it was down to about 500,000 cartons per day.

“The prices have been in a slump for awhile, so it’s a good thing,” Casca said of the stronger markets.

Volumes will likely be down into early September, when summer plantings in Samta Maria and Oxnard start to kick in, Casca said.

With the lower voluems has come larger sizing, a trend that should continue, Casca said.

“With the cooler weather, the size is coming up,” he said.

Fruit also should be on the larger side at the beginning of the summer planting deals.