PLANT CITY, Fla. — Production issues in California should keep strawberry prices high through the early parts of Florida’s winter deal.

High prices mark start of Florida strawberry season

Doug Ohlemeier

Larry Scarborough, salesman for BBI Produce Inc., Dover, Fla., views some early season strawberries in late November. California production problems have kept opening Florida season prices higher than normal. While harvesting normally begins in late November, Florida grower-shippers say the season is coming along well and say they’re hoping to begin shipping promotable volume a week before Christmas.

In late November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported demand exceeding supply in California with rain and wet fields curtailing harvesting.

On Nov. 22, the USDA reported flats of 12 1-pint baskets from Oxnard, Calif., selling for $26-28 for medium-large and $18-22 for flats of eight 1-pound containers with lids medium-large and for flats of four 2-pound containers with lids.

That’s higher than the week earlier when the pint baskets sold for $22-25 for medium-large.

In late November 2009, the USDA reported 12 1-pint baskets from Oxnard sold for $18-20 and eight 1-pound containers and flats of four 2-pound containers sold for $14-16.

“It’s shaping up to be a very strong strawberry market,” said Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner of Salinas, Calif.-based Colorful Harvest LLC, which also has Florida and Mexican production. “The outlook for the Florida and Mexican market is very strong.”

Ranno said Florida’s crop looks favorable with strong stands. In late November, he said Colorful Harvest remained on schedule for a successful Florida season.

California should experience lighter than normal supplies for the next couple of months, said Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Wishnatzki Farms, which also has California production.

Wishnatzki said he sold a pallet of flats of eight 1-pound clamshells from Florida in late November for $30.

Though the USDA wasn’t reporting Florida prices in late November because growers were picking small amounts of berries, Wishnatzki said f.o.b.s were being quoted in the high $20s and low $30s.

“We are already off to higher prices than we were this time last year,” Wishnatzki said in late November. “Those prices should continue through January when prices peak. “

In late November, Wishnatzki said the season started in a strong way and said he expects to begin shipping larger quantities of pallets the week of Dec. 6 with promotable volume likely to start the week of Dec. 13.

Harvesting increases in mid-December with volume slowly building into promotable levels by Christmas.

Chris Smith, sales manager for BBI Produce Inc., Dover, said he hopes enough berries will mature and provide sufficient volume for promotions the week before Christmas.

He said fall weather has been favorable for strawberry growth. Smith said cool nights with daytime highs in the upper 70s have helped plants produce berries.

“The season is coming along very well,” he said in late November. “The plants are blooming and we are ready to go. We are trying to find our timing and determine when volume will come in and when we can promote the berries.”

Smith called the season on-time to a couple of days early and said shipments normally begin after Thanksgiving.

After freezing temperatures wrecked production and created supply gaps during last winter’s production, Wishnatzki said he expects this season to bring more steady supplies with fewer interruptions.

“The outlook will be a much better string of fruit,” he said. “We may have a freeze or two which could slow things down a little, but the way things are shaping up, it looks like the volume will be much better than last winter.”

Wishnatzki was doing bloom counts in late November and planned to experience its first peak of fruit by late December.

Florida’s winter window normally begins around Christmas with peak volume normally hitting in early January before starting to decline in mid-March.