(Jan. 25) Santa Ana winds slightly disrupted Southern California strawberry harvests in late January, but shippers don’t expect the weather to keep them from satisfying retailers’ needs for Valentine’s Day promotions.

The California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville, reported year-to-date shipments as of Jan. 20 were 1.5 million trays, more than double that of the 2005 shipments as of that date, when early season rains slowed the start of the deal. Even excessive rains later in the season didn’t halt harvests, and shippers posted record volumes of 153.4 million trays during the year.

Flats of 12 1-pint baskets of medium-large berries from Southern California on Jan. 24 were $14.90, and flats of eight 1-pound containers of medium large were $12.90-14.90, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. From Florida, flats of 12 1-pint baskets and flats of eight 1-pound containers were $10.90-12.90.

Increased acreage, a reliance on varieties that extend the season and higher per-acre yields are expected to bring California strawberry shippers another record season, at an estimated 167 million trays, said Mary DeGroat, the commission’s public relations director.

“It comes down to the weather,” DeGroat said. “When the weather is good, we have an amazing amount of production.”

There are 34,155 acres in production this season, according to the commission, up from 2005’s 32,600 acres. Overall acreage in California, Oregon and Florida is up 4% from 2005, at 46,300 acres, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

David Wright, communications manager for Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, said early January rain in the Watsonville area curtailed the late fall crop. Production that late in the season is seen as a “bonus crop,” anyway, Wright said, and such weather isn’t unexpected.

The rains didn’t disrupt planting for the late spring crop, he said, and production should start on time in April.

Winds the third and fourth weeks of January slowed the Orange County and Oxnard harvest, DeGroat said, but it shouldn’t affect picking into February.

“We’ve had some chilly weather and some winds last week, but it’s certainly early in the year and weather can be an early obstacle to a smooth start to the season,” said Stephanie Hilton, marketing director for Beach Street Farms, Watsonville, Calif., on Jan. 24. “Then the Santa Ana (winds) have kicked in again this week.”

Oxnard, where the early season crop is, has received some rains in mid- and late January, but most of the heavier rains fell in Watsonville, shippers said. DeGroat said frost in the third week of January also slowed the nearby Santa Maria harvest, but more varieties will be ready to pick in late January and volumes will increase.

Terry Snow, who provides weather forecasts for California fruit and vegetable growers and shippers through his Lake Isabella-based company, Weather Advisory Service, said the weather outlook is relatively clear for the Oxnard area.

“There’s nothing coming, maybe a drizzle here or there, but other than that, it probably will be dry through the middle of February, maybe longer,” Snow said.