Valentine’s Day strawberry promotions may struggle for volume after a series of storms hit  Southern California in mid-January.

Up to six inches of rain — and at times, hail — fell starting Jan. 18, causing widespread damage to ripened strawberries in the state’s major winter growing districts of Santa Maria, Orange County, and Oxnard, delaying harvests the week of Jan. 25.

Strawberry availability in question for Valentine’s Day

Tom Burfield

Mark Lopez, ranch manager for Mike Etchandy Farms, Irvine, Calif., checks on the condition of the fruit in an Orange County field Jan. 27. Southern California endured four storms during the week of Jan. 17, and while berries stripped from the water-logged plants lie in the muddy furrows, new and surviving berries were on the resilient san andreas plants.

Forecasts call for rain the first two weeks of February, but if enough dry weather comes through, growers said strawberry supplies may rebound in time for Valentine’s Day. Continued rainfall leading up to Feb. 14 will further hamper supplies.

Gloria Chillon, director of marketing for Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, Calif., said strawberries in Santa Maria and Oxnard were lost but the plants are on track to recover in February if the rain abates. It’s unclear what kind of supplies will be available for Valentine’s Day, Chillon said, and though Driscoll’s is also shipping strawberries from Mexico, rain there has also curtailed volume.

“We know the supply will be disrupted,” Chillon said.

Shipments for Valentine’s Day promotions usually start late the first week of February, growers said, and customers are calling for updates on volumes they can expect in time for Feb. 14.

Prices for strawberries from San Diego and Orange counties weren’t available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Jan. 27 due to insufficient supplies. USDA reported prices of up to $20 on Jan. 27 for flats of 8 1-pound and flats of 4 2-pound containers of medium-large berries from Oxnard.

Craig Moriyama, strawberry product manager for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., said between 70% and 80% of the company’s ripe strawberry production was damaged during the storms, with crews stripping plants of all but the most immature berries to generate more fruit quickly. Valentine’s Day supplies depends on the weather, Moriyama said.

Strawberry availability in question for Valentine’s Day

Tom Burfield

This strawberry, from an Orange County field, shows damage from excess rainfall.

“With berries all you need is a week of nice weather,” Moriyama said.

The state’s growers produced 376,900 trays of strawberries during the week of Jan. 23, down significantly from the 976,000 trays produced the week of Jan. 16 and the 1.14 million trays produced during the same week last year, according to the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission.

Year-to-date figures show 2.14 million trays produced this year compared with 2.7 million trays in 2009. A partial count for trays produced during the week of Jan. 29 was not available by deadline.

John Kubo, sales manager for Orange County Produce LLC, Irvine, Calif., said supplies are very limited for immediate orders and they will likely remain short for Valentine’s Day orders.

“It’s going to be real close,” Kubo said.