Photo:Wish Farms' strawberries in the field.
The Packer news release
Florida strawberry volume starts strong
Florida strawberry growers have enjoyed a strong start to the 2017-18 season, and early signs point to a year of ample volume and promotion opportunities.
Season-to-date shipments through Dec. 9 totaled 1.258 million 12-pound cartons, up from 1.075 million cartons the same time a year ago.
Neither Hurricane Irma in September nor a cold spell in mid-December caused any problems for the crop, said Kenneth Parker, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Dover, Fla.
“There is no reason we should not have a good crop,” Parker said.
The acreage of Florida strawberries is unchanged this season, Parker said, at somewhere between 10,000 and 11,000 acres.
Volume of strawberries anticipated in late December is expected lighter than a year ago because of the mid-December cold front, said Shawn Butler, salesman with Grimes Produce Co. LLC, Plant City, Fla.
“We don’t expect to see any type of volume relief until January,” he said.
Butler said while Hurricane Irma caused growers to spend money on laying new plastic and working ground they had just finished, newer strawberry varieties and planting of plugs has allowed volume to increase in the November marketing window.
“Where we typically didn’t start until after Thanksgiving, now we are starting at the beginning of November,” he said.
Supply of fruit should continue through March, depending on fresh market conditions, he said.
“If the market stays stable, the fruit will be here to pick,” he said. “If it is below the cost of production, you are going to lose volume.”
Accounting for about 17% or 18% of total acreage, Gary Wishnatzki, president and CEO of Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms, said overall acreage for the deal may be up just slightly this year.
“We should have really good production,” he said.
With more growers using the H-2A program, Wishnatzki said labor is not expected to be a problem in harvesting the crop.
With adequate labor, Wish Farms is expected to pick deep into April, he said. Later season volume could go heavier to the processing market, he said.
Florida’s output is critical to help the company meet year-round customer needs, said Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms.
“With the fires affecting the situation in Oxnard and cooler weather in Mexico, Florida continues to be a very valuable part of our berry program,” she said.
“Shorter days and cooler nights already provide a challenge so having diversity and crops in multiple regions is key.”
Strawberry planting began the week after Hurricane Irma hit Florida, so the storm caused no change to planting or normal harvest timing, Parker said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports total Florida strawberry shipments in calendar year 2016 totaled 18.3 million 12-pound cartons, down slightly from 19.2 million cartons in 2015 but way up from 11.5 million cartons in 2010.
The season-to-date average price for Florida strawberries, through Dec. 9, was $17.91 per carton, down from $19.73 per carton in 2016 and $19.36 per carton in 2015.
By month, Florida strawberry shipments peak in February and March, with those two months accounting for 32% and 37% of annual shipments, respectively.
In 2016, December accounted for 21% of total shipments and January had a 9% share of total annual shipments.
In 2016, the Florida Department of Agriculture reported the value of the fresh strawberry crop was valued at $205 per cwt., or $449.8 million.
Strawberry acreage in Florida in 2016 totaled 10,800 planted acres and 10,700 harvested acres of strawberries.
Parker said Sue Harrell, director of marketing for the association, has a full slate of marketing and promotional opportunities this season.
Harrell will leverage the association’s efforts with the Florida Department of Agriculture’s “Fresh from Florida” program to generically promote all Florida grown strawberries, Parker said. Promotion activities include social media events, retail trade shows, consumer contests, restaurant partnerships and in-store sampling.
Wishnatzki said retailers focus on holidays for big strawberry promotions, with Valentine’s Day offering a great opportunity for big promotions.
With Easter on April 1 in 2018 - compared with April 16 last year - Florida strawberries should be in good supply for promotions, Wishnatzki said.
But strong promotion chances won’t be limited to holidays, he said.
“Through the whole season, we are in the price range they can drive traffic in stores with strawberries,” he said.
Wish Farms is offering sampling programs with retail partners this year, he said, which help spur repeat sales.
This story is from the Packer.