(March 7) Florida strawberry production, delayed earlier this winter by unseasonably cold weather, is now coming on in full force.

Shippers expect heavy volumes into mid- to late March.

Meanwhile, warm, dry weather has accelerated California’s early season production by two or three weeks, said John Corrigan, the Watsonville, Calif., director of marketing for Global Berry Farms LLC, Naples, Fla. The resulting overlap between the two states has led to lower prices for both states.

As of March 4, central Florida f.o.b.s for flats of 12 1-pint baskets of strawberries rested at $4.90-5.90, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The same time last year, prices were at $9.90-11.90.

Southern California’s f.o.b.s were mostly $8.90 for the same pack, compared to $14.90-16.90 the same time last year.

Demand was light in both areas, according to the USDA. Gary Wishnatzki, president of Wishnatzki Farms, Plant City, Fla., said movement should increase once the Midwest and Northeast emerge into more spring-like weather.

“Once that occurs we’re expecting a bump in demand,” he said. Florida production should slow down by March 20, he said.

Wishnatzki said his company’s growers have more late-setting camarosa strawberries than the industry at large, which will allow him to have fruit available for Easter, which falls April 20. Still, volumes won’t be heavy leading into the holiday, he said.

Jim Hunt, consultant and field man for J.W. Hunt Produce Co. Inc., Plant City, said the company would miss the holiday this season.

California should have good supplies for the holiday, said Doug Circle, president of Sunrise Growers Inc., Placentia, Calif.

By then, there should be simultaneous production between Oxnard, Santa Maria and Watsonville, said Dennis Petersen, district manager of the Santa Maria branch of Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, Calif. He foresaw plenty of volume “as long as the weather cooperates.”

Circle said California’s peak usually falls from April 15 to June 15. This season, that window could shift a week or two earlier, he said.

As of March 3, the USDA reported California’s production since September at 12.9 million flats, more than double the same time last year. Santa Maria production so far this year was at 609,800 flats, compared to none the same time last year.

Meanwhile, Florida’s production since November was down by roughly 500,000 flats.

Cold weather earlier this winter slowed Florida’s volumes. At the same time, the potential for higher markets was mitigated by California’s early production, shippers say.

As a result, Florida has faced both lower production and lower prices. Now, Wishnatzki said, the state is going from lean production to a bumper crop.

“We’ve gone from a feast to a famine, or maybe it’s more famine to feast,” he said.

Chip Hinton, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association Inc., Plant City, said the late January freeze probably cost growers 20% to 30% of the strawberries on the plant at the time. The Florida strawberry industry also lost between 200,000 and 300,000 flats this season to robins, which target the crops every three or four years, he said. Hinton said there’s no way to protect the crops from the birds.

“It’s Alfred Hitchcock revisited,” he said.