California strawberry growers lose thousands of berries to recent rains

Weather halts production, but will not have a lasting effect on market in peak season

A field worker throws away rain-ruined strawberries in Driscoll’s field off W. Beach Street in Watsonville Monday. (Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel)
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WATSONVILLE — Strawberry fields for now, not forever, are losing good berries because of recent rains.

Dane Scurich, president of Scurich Berry Farms Inc. and a Driscoll’s strawberry and blackberry grower, said he expects to start cleaning up the damage from the weather in the next day or so, but can knock growers out of production for four to five days depending on the climate. He said the intense rain of the past week damages the berry itself because its delicate skin makes it subject to decay and loss in quality, the flower on the strawberry plant is likely also damaged.

“We may feel the impact of this for the next two weeks depending on how much damage there was to the berry,” he said. He added that it’s important to do a good job of clearing bad strawberries from the plants because they will mildew and/or take down neighboring fruit.

Suricho said he expects 500-700 trays per acre of berries will be lost in the next 10 days. With each tray holding about 104 berries, that’s about 52,000-72,800 berries per acre lost. Scurich Berry Farms has 105 acres.

Rain-ruined ripe strawberries lay in the mud of a berry field off West Beach Street in Watsonville Monday. Field workers throughout the Pajaro Valley have to make sure to clear the field of bad strawberries so that others don’t decay. (Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

From bud to flower to berry, he said the maturation stage is about four to five weeks. Early July is historically peak season for harvesting, but the new strawberry varieties pack in early June.

“They came out of the gate a lot hotter than usual because of the winter rains,” he said.

Suricho and his team will selectively harvest, picking good berries and juicing them or sending them to market, while stripping the bad ones.

Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director at the Strawberry California Commission, said because strawberries are grown outdoors, growers expect weather-related damage to happen. California strawberries are planted in November mainly in Santa Maria, Oxnard and Watsonville, and harvest starts around March/April and goes until October or November. She said strawberries bloom throughout the season, unlike one-time blooming fruits such as apples and peaches, so a shorter supply doesn’t have a major effect. She called it a “temporary condition.” While strawberries are now in peak season and in greatest supply, growers aren’t making a lot of revenue because there are so many berries on the market sold at lower prices.

Local strawberry growers will throw away ripe strawberries or juice them due to damage from recent rains. (Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Peter Navarro, owner of Navarro Farms and grower for Well-Pict Berries in Watsonville, said the May rains are very abnormal and haven’t affected the fields like this in the past 10-12 years.

“The month of May produces some of your best berries,” he said and added that recent rains disrupt the picking schedule and cause a loss of production.

He and his staff of approximately 95 people will clean the strawberry plants out or throw them into the ditch. The berries he sends for juicing will go to the Del Mar Foods cannery. He also confirmed that if the berries aren’t removed, they will start to rot on the vine, affect green fruit and bring disease to the plant.

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