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Strawberry supplies tighten as strong season wraps up

California strawberry growers are winding down a strong 2020, but weather problems are making the market tight for the next few weeks.

Markon Cooperative BB #:123315 Salinas, CA, alerted buyers this week that Ventura County has had rain, wind and overnight freezes, which means “Supplies of quality fruit will be extremely limited for the next 14 days.”

“Expect prices to increase due to low volume and quality concerns,” the report said.

According to USDA, prices for 8 1-pound containers of small-medium from Santa Maria on November 10 were $16-18, which is considerably higher than the same time last year when prices were $8-12.

Despite the recent challenges, Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director for the California Strawberry Commission BB #:153596 in Watsonville said, “Fall production quality is good out of Santa Maria and Oxnard as we approach the end of the year.”

Overall, as the 2020 season winds down, year-to-date fresh production is up about 7 million trays from last year.

“The increase is due to a slight increase in planted acres and the continued shift to higher-yielding varieties,” she said. “There has been an increase in retail demand, and overall demand was strong this year following some early spring market disruption due to COVID. In general retail demand for fresh strawberries has made up for the drop in foodservice demand.”

O’Donnell said weather this year has been pretty normal, and while the August heatwaves in California temporarily affected supply and quality, the fall production from Santa Maria and Oxnard has been good as the season finishes.

“Planting for 2021 season production is nearly completed, and if weather is favorable, newly planted acreage in Southern California may begin producing in January,” she said.

O’Donnell said strawberry growers continue to pay close attention to food safety and worker safety as the pandemic continues.

“We expect COVID-19 prevention strategies to be an integral part of farming operations, and the commission will continue to provide communications and tools targeting the field worker population,” she said, noting that signage and training materials are available on the commission’s website.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services