Santa Maria is California’s second leading produce and shipper of strawberries and this season could be a banner one. As with other Golden State berry production areas, Santa Mara has been producing greater volumes with higher yield under new varieties.
Positioned on the Central Coast with Ventura to its south and Watsonville to the north, in 2018, Santa Maria strawberry shipments totaled over 33 percent of California’s total volume — about 70.4 million crates.
In the fall of 2018, growers planted 8,583 acres for the upcoming winter, spring and summer season, off from 11,744 acres from the previous season.
Providence Farms in Santa Maria has mostly organic strawberries on 260 acres, which grows and ships its product through California Giant Berry Farms. The company reports increasing yields as a result of research by the University of California, Davis program. Providence Farms 35 years ago was producing around 6,000 trays an acre, but now yields are up to 8,500 to 9,000 trays an acre with newer, improved varieties.
If the weather is normal this season, weekly shipment volume is expected to equal or exceed average shipment totals the past three years from April 15th to October 31st.
Total California strawberry shipments have set records the past three years in total, increasing 6 percent. It is a trend where growers are producing higher yields with less planted acreage. During the past three years strawberry acreage has declined 12 percent.
Two of the three top-yielding varieties in production yield studies conducted in Watsonville by UC Davis, include the monterey variety, producing 10,554 cartons per acre, and the san andreas variety, which yielded 10,414 cartons per acre.
However, problems can arise with the higher-producing varieties. Weather factors delayed fruit harvests until California’s three strawberry districts came online with fruit, including those high-yield varieties, close in time with each other. That was around May 11th, when production hit nearly 10 million trays and exceeded the three-year average of just over 8 million trays.
Annual shipments increased 9 percent to nearly 225 million trays.
Weather has resulted in statewide shipments this year trailing behind last year at this time. As of March 23rd, shipments were at about 7.2 million trays — significantly behind the nearly 11.9 million trays harvested at the same time last year.
In Santa Maria, about 637,000 crates of berries have been shipped compared to over 2.4 million crates a year ago. Timing, however, is on track with normal years.
Santa Maria strawberry and vegetable shipments – grossing about $4700 to Chicago.