After the heavy rains that fell over the past week in California, strawberry growers have now turned to cleaning up their fields and removing damaged strawberries. Both Salinas and Santa Maria were hit by rains, with the greater amount falling in the Salinas-Watsonville growing district. Despite growers picking as many berries as possible ahead of the rains, in general most of the ripe fruit that remained in the fields was damaged. Harvesting came to a halt as firstly muddy conditions prevented any meaningful access to fields, followed by the cleaning up process which is currently ongoing.
"Much of the labor this week was really focused on keeping fields clean, stripping off rain damaged fruit and preparing for what is ahead," said Cindy Jewell of California Giant Berry Farms. However, she said the company expects production to be back on track very shortly with warmer weather in the forecast. "It looks like the weather might finally be shifting and there is light at the end of the tunnel by the weekend. Even though we have had damaging rain and lost a lot of what was ripe and ready fruit, the plants will quickly rebound as summer weather emerges. Because strawberry plants always have varying stages of fruit on each plant, they quickly come back after a rain."
Because strawberries are constantly growing new fruit throughout the season, production should only be hampered for a couple of weeks. This is good news in the context of the entire summer season. "We still expect peak volume to support strong promotions ahead for the summer months," Jewell noted. "The long summer days ahead will bring on that summer crop and we will have fruit for our retail promotional partners slated in June."
Market will tighten up
Although production will get back to normal in a couple of weeks, shippers will still have to work through limited supplies over this period. Comparatively little fruit has been shipped this week but prices have remained steady for now. Shippers are also considering how quality will be over the next two weeks.
"The harvest has certainly been curtailed to the point that only a quarter of a million trays were packed on Monday," observed Jay Carreon of brokerage firm GW Palmer. "Prices are at $9 - $10 and the market is holding steady at the moment. Because there was significant damage to the ripe fruit, moving forward it's going to be hard to tell what to ship or not. Quality-wise, we anticipate seeing arrival issues from next week and will be battling this until the week after next."
Carreon also said the industry expects tight supplies which could be problematic for companies that have locked in commitments for the upcoming Memorial Day pull and the period shortly after. "Huge commitments have already been set and we are seeing low prices at retail along with Memorial Day around the corner, both of which are going to drive the market," he explained. "These prices were set weeks ago, so supplies are going to be tight until the end of next week at the earliest."