DOVER, Fla. — As they open their season with higher acreage and favorable growing conditions, Florida strawberry grower-shippers expect larger-than-normal early season shipments.

In late November, light pickings started in the Plant City and Dover areas.

Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Wishnatzki Farms, Plant City, said near ideal growing conditions should make for higher-than-normal December volume.

Florida to ship more strawberries during early part of deal

Doug Ohlemeier

Sal Toscano, strawberry product manager for SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla., examines radiance variety strawberries in mid-November northwest of Plant City, Fla.

“It looks like we should have a really good early start,” he said Nov. 20. “December should make for a lot more production than we had last December due to the warmer weather we have had. This should be one of our stronger Decembers on record for production.”

Though some growers had started early harvest in mid-November, Florida’s winter strawberry deal is expected to begin in earnest in early December with promotable volumes hitting by the middle of the month.

During mid- to late November, Florida growers normally “scrap” or pick small amounts of red berries from the fields that contain mostly green berries. Larger pickings normally start in mid-December with volume slowly building into promotable levels by Christmas.

Dan Crowley, sales manager of Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Inc., which partners with JayMar Produce Inc., Wimauma, Fla., agreed that buyers should expect more Florida strawberries this season.

“Our deal and the rest of the industry should have bigger shipments,” he said Nov. 19. “This year should see a bigger December than past years. It will make for a good opportunity for retailers to get promotable volume during the month of December.”

Chris Smith, sales manager for BBI Produce Inc., said BBI’s grower-owners expect to pick more berries than normal this year before Christmas.

“We will definitely have a few more berries before Christmas than last year,” he said in mid-November. “The crop this year looks outstanding with the size of the bloom and all. The berries look great.”

Parkesdale Farms plans to begin harvest Dec. 1, on-time.

Ken Andrews, sales manager of Parkesdale Packing & Cooling Inc., Parkesdale Farms’ sales arm, Nov. 19 said Florida wasn’t producing enough volume yet to set a market price.

He said he had seen some flats of strawberries at area roadside stands being offered for sale as high as $25 a flat.

Otherwise, Andrews said he expects a strong season.

“Everything is looking good,” he said. “We are expecting to have a good season.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture hadn’t started reporting Florida strawberry prices in late November. 

From Oxnard, Calif., the USDA reported flats of 12 1-pint baskets small-medium selling for $18-20 on Nov. 18 and flats of 8 1-pound containers with lids medium-large and flats of 4 2-pound containers with lids medium-large sold for $14-16.

Last year in late November from Oxnard, the USDA reported flats of 12 1-pint baskets small-medium for $20.90-22 and flats of 8 1-pound containers with lids small-medium and flats of 4 2-pound containers with lids selling for $18.90-20.

Florida shippers in late November quoted prices at $16 for flats of 8 1-pound clamshells. Prices normally increase as Florida begins its shipments.

For this season, growers are expected to have planted 9,000-10,000 acres, up from 8,500 acres they harvested last year, said Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.

Campbell said he is hearing good things about this season.

“The crop looks good,” he said in late November. “The weather has been nice. The plants look healthy. We are looking for another good season.”

Peak volume normally hits in early January before starting to decline in mid-March.