(Sept. 3) WATSONVILLE, Calif. — With an eye on balancing its Northern and Southern California fresh strawberry production, Naturipe Berry Growers has hired a new director of operations and is adding acreage in Oxnard, Santa Maria and the Coachella Valley for the 2003 season.

Greg France joined Naturipe in August. He has worked in the strawberry business for many years and comes to Naturipe from Santa Maria-based Central West Produce. France said he was excited to join Naturipe because it works well with growers.

Rick Amirsehhi, president of Naturipe, said in a news release that he is happy to have France on board and that France had wasted no time in establishing a Santa Maria deal for Naturipe.

The 120 acres that Naturipe will harvest in Santa Maria will be its first Santa Maria strawberry deal. It also will add 140 acres in Oxnard and 40 in the Coachella Valley.

“We’ve been out of balance between north and south,” said John Corrigan III, director of marketing and business development. “This will be a good shot in the arm to help us level our market share throughout the season.”

Corrigan said the new acreage wouldn’t add to Naturipe’s front or back of its strawberry season, but it would add volume throughout the year.

“This will allow us to do more business early on,” Corrigan said. “We want to start out and be able to supply our customers from Oxnard all the way up through the Watsonville deal.”

Craig Moriyama, vice president of sales, said the added acreage fills a hole that Naturipe has had in its production and market share, particularly during the Santa Maria season.

“Our early Watsonville production used to be enough for us to get by,” Moriyama said. “The diamante variety, which is the predominant variety for us in Watsonville now, comes later, and we just can’t get by like we used to. The acreage in Santa Maria gives us the ability to supply our customers from the start of Orange County in January through the end of Watsonville without missing a beat.”