California strawberry production continues its northerly track as Oxnard begins to see a decline in volume. At the same time, fields in Santa Maria are coming online with overall production increasing day by day. This means that California strawberry supplies are set to remain steady. However, suppliers say that fruit quality is declining out of Oxnard as the last of the season's fruit is harvested.
"After several weeks of strong production in Oxnard, California, overall pack-outs will begin to fall sharply now through the end of the month," noted Ira Greenstein of Direct Source Marketing. "Quality and condition has begun to decline with only about half of the fruit being packed able to meet retail specifications. With Oxnard production decreasing and Santa Maria rising, we expect to see overall pack-outs remain fairly level, hovering between 1.1-1.3 million flats per day."
Meanwhile Santa Maria also had some recent weather issues that put a strain on fruit quality, but that has since been resolved. "About 10 days ago, Santa Maria saw a spike in temperatures and heavy winds that caused significant bruising," Greenstein explained. "Growers and shippers have completed cleaning and stripping the fields and expectations are for excellent quality fruit to start the week."
Freezer market looking appealing for Oxnard shippers
Looking ahead, the market is expected to remain steady at this stage, as volume and demand seem well-balanced. Suppliers suggest that the fruit quality issues in Oxnard are providing an incentive to shippers to send their fruit to processers rather than distribute to the fresh market, especially to the East Coast.
"Although there will still be shipments coming from Oxnard this week, retailers will look to transition to northern supplies quickly," Greenstein said. "Currently, freezer pricing is fairly good, which could entice many Oxnard growers to go for the safe option instead of sending questionable quality fruit across the country."
As the month progresses, Watsonville is slowly starting up which will see fresh new crop strawberries enter the market just as Oxnard completely finishes. Prices are looking steady with the only factor being whether or not Oxnard growers do indeed send their fruit to the freezer market.
"Watsonville fields are just now starting to produce, but it could be another two to three weeks before we see any meaningful volume from the region," Greenstein observed. "Expectations are to see pricing ranging from consignment-$8 on Oxnard fruit and $8-$10 on Santa Maria and Watsonville supplies. Overall pricing could adjust lower if growers in Oxnard choose not to send fruit to the freezer and flood the market with weaker fruit."