(Jan. 8) WATSONVILLE, Calif. — Strawberry buyers looking for additional volume to make up for weather-related shortages in Florida are finding them from California suppliers.

And if good weather holds and there are no other unforeseen problems, buyers can expect a plentiful California crop this year with both conventional and organic acreage up for 2003.

According to the California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville, total strawberry acreage increased to 28,230 for 2003, a jump of 5.2% over last year. About 41% of the crop is in the Watsonville area, followed by 31% in Oxnard, nearly 16% in Santa Maria, about 10% in Orange County and San Diego and just under 2% in the San Joaquin Valley.

Total organic acres jumped from 383 in 2002 to 607 in 2003.

“Things are looking good, especially with the nice stretch of warm weather we’ve been having,” said Dominique Hansen, communications director for the commission. “It rained quite a bit last month, but there was not a lot of fruit at the time, and the rain strengthened the plants.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Jan. 7 that movement of strawberries out of Southern California was increasing and had a wide range in quality. Flats of 12 1-pint baskets as well as flats of eight 1-pound clamshells sold for $18.90.

At the same time, the USDA said, colder-than-normal temperatures were retarding strawberry shipments out of central Florida. Flats of 12 one-pint baskets sold for $16.90-18.90 while flats of eight 1-pound clamshells sold for $17.90-18.90. Quality was mostly good, the USDA said.

The California season begins slowly in January with berries in the Coachella and Orange County/San Diego areas with some late-season berries in Oxnard still being harvested as well. Oxnard kicks off its spring season about March, she said. From there, the harvest moves up the coast into Santa Maria and finally into Watsonville.