(Jan. 5) Other than snipping off the tail end of a late-fall crop, recent heavy rainfall in California did little to dampen hopes for another record strawberry crop.

A wind-laden Pacific storm drenched California with 1½-2½ inches of rain in most of the state’s strawberry production regions Jan. 1-2, according to the National Weather Service.

The only casualties were the ripest early fruit, and some late-season fruit that was in the midst of harvest, according to the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission.

“It temporarily interrupts the harvest, but they’re back in the fields in three to five days,” said Teresa Thorne, spokeswoman for the commission.

A winter drenching also is nothing unusual, Thorne said.

California is coming off a second consecutive record crop, at 131 million trays through the end of November.

Year-end statistics were not yet available, Thorne said.

But it was well ahead of 2004, another record-volume year for strawberry growers, Thorne said, adding that the state had shipped 115 million trays at the same point a year earlier.

Those numbers are likely to increase, with acreage for this year estimated at 34,000 statewide, Thorne said. That continues another upward trend, with growers having planted 32,600 last year, 31,600 in 2004 and 28,200 in 2003, Thorne said.

“If you look at the trend in strawberries over the last 20 years, they have had just steady upward growth, and I think every year, people wonder how big the strawberry deal can get,” said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing for San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce. “My observation over the years has been that as long as the strawberry quality stays high, and competition remains high, there will continue to be a great market for strawberries.”

The recent rains, Munger said, were not a serious concern.

“You lose your ripe fruit, and it sets you back about a week,” he said. “You basically strip off the areas that have red and clean the plants up a little bit. So, it definitely curtailed some production.”

Production in Watsonville is between seasons, but harvests are ongoing in the Oxnard area, Munger said.

“Oxnard was beginning to pick up some speed, and that slowed that down a little, with the rain,” he said. “But it’s really amazing how quickly the plants can rebound. And, this time of year, the plants are real healthy and strong. And the soil in the Oxnard area is sandy and it always seems the fields dry out quickly.”

Prices likely won’t be affected, Munger said.

“You have Florida, which is coming into production, and we have Baja, which is producing, and you have Orange County and Oxnard,” he said.

Watsonville-based California Giant Inc. reported no serious rain-related problems.

“The plants are pretty hardy,” said Cindy Jewell, marketing director. “They got knocked out for a few days, but you’ve always got new fruit pushing up, so I think we’re back in harvest today or tomorrow. Most of the rain was north, and we’re harvesting in Oxnard.”