California strawberry shipments are down this season about 40 percent compared to this time a year ago.
But the West Coast isn’t alone with lower volume on strawberries. Some are calling Florida’s strawberry season a crop failure. Florida strawberry shipments are down 50 percent, while Mexico is off by one-third.
Strawberries shipments are typically big for Valentine’s Day (which was February 14). This next big push is for Easter, which arrives early this year, March 27th. Although California strawberry shipments should increase for Easter, loadings are still expected to be well below normal.
Mexican strawberry shipments are also increasing. During the week of January 18-22 Mexico was averaging 160,000 to 180,000 trays. The following week there was at least 20 percent.
Above average rainfall in California from El Nino is expected to last into April, which could continue to make increases in strawberry volume a challenge.
A trend that is now adversely affecting early season shipments the past few years has been the shifting of strawberry field acreage away from Ventura County in Southern California, which is the earliest shipping district. Oxnard (Ventura County) has just over 6,800 acres of strawberries. That compares to the 10,300 acres planted just three years ago. Most of the grower/shippers have planted more strawberries in the Santa Maria district over the last few years, which is further north along the California coast.
The reason for the acreage shift relates to the varieties of the fruit. Oxnard needs a good short-day strawberry variety and there aren’t any good ones right now. Growers simply are not getting the yields in Oxnard.