California’s strawberries and citrus on watch post-storm

From Fresh Plaza | 7 February 2024

Overview of strawberries and citrus from California in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on February 7, 2024.

Following Sunday’s sizable rains and winds, assessments continue of California’s fruit crops.

Berries: Nick Wishnatzki of Wish Farms says much of last week’s strawberry harvest was lost to rain damage. “We anticipate 75-100 percent loss of harvest this week as the conditions are too wet for any field activity over the next couple of days,” he says, adding that the winds are likely as much or more impactful than actual rainfall accumulation as they ripped and destroyed its hoops in Santa Maria and Lompoc fields.

At California Giant Berry Farms, Nick Chappell also says many fields are inaccessible, and it will take another few days to fully understand the storm’s impact. “Fields are saturated and flooded from the amount of rain. Thankfully, crews anticipated the storm and worked to pick ahead to mitigate the amount of damaged fruit,” says Chappell.

“This current huge weather event is going to be tough on strawberry production in California and Baja Mexico for the next few weeks,” says Steve Johnston of G.W. Palmer & Co.

He says the berries on the plants will have to be stripped due to excessive moisture, and many of the blossoms on the plants now will develop into an unusable poorly shaped berry.” Salinas Watsonville won’t be early like we were thinking a couple of weeks ago. I think the market for western-grown strawberries is going to be very strong for the next month,” says Johnston.

At Bobalu Berries, Cindy Jewell says it’s experienced heavy wind and rain in Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.” The wind is actually somewhat helpful in helping to dry out plants,” says Jewell, noting that there is fruit coming in from Mexico to help fill the short-term supply gap.

strawberry volumes by or 4

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

Citrus: In anticipation of the rain, many growers harvested ahead to fill as many bins as possible. “We picked navels from Kern County and local navels to accommodate customers because we don’t plan to harvest any navels this week due to muddy conditions,” says Chris Diaz of Fillmore-Piru Citrus. In lemons, it picked ahead in Coachella, Borrego, Piru, Santa Paula, and Porterville. “With lemons being ahead in maturity, it will be even more critical we harvest as soon as these orchards dry,” he says.

With a strong market for small-size navels and lemons, the small-size market could stay strong through spring. “With larger size navels and lemons, we will see more of that fruit as we hit March and April. Fruit will only grow with this rain, and the market will be very volatile on the bigger fruit.”

He says there will be plenty of sizes 40/48/56 navels and 75/95/115 size lemons this year.

At California Citrus Mutual, Casey Creamer says while it thought that the impact of the storm would be worse, it’s the moisture level in the fields and getting in and out of them that will be navigated in the days ahead, along with roads that are being cleared. “Things will dry out, and depending on the routes and where the flooding is, that could be a problem,” says Creamer. “In the area, we’re getting the most significant reports of flooding, such as Ventura, that will probably delay picking by a week. However, I’m not anticipating any major market disruptions at this time.”

Like many growers and shippers in the region, Sunny Cal Farms picked ahead of the weekend’s storm. “Not every shipper was able to get exactly what they wanted to get, and that was based on labor,” says Sunny Cal’s CJ Buxman. “We’re not seeing a major labor issue this season. Though when demand for harvesting skyrockets over two days, it’s inevitable that people who wanted to, for example, get five loads from a ranch, only get three.”

While the rain will continue this week until likely the latter half of the week, along with the wet ground conditions that will prevent harvesting, the fruit itself also needs to dry out somewhat, given citrus rinds are like sponges and are marked if harvested when wet.

“On the organic side, it’s an even bigger challenge because organic post-harvest protocols don’t allow for fungicides,” says Buxman, noting that means there’s an increased amount of concern over quality issues on organic citrus.

Buxman says this means towards the end of the week when the rain has stopped but ground conditions don’t allow for picking yet, that the fruit that was harvested in the middle of last week will have a bit of age on it. “Shippers will have to make sure that the quality control is increased towards the end of the week because that’s when we’re going to start seeing some issues, and the supply is going to decrease.”

In turn, markets that are sensitive to price fluctuation may see pricing go up later this week. “For retailers on programs, it’s going to be about trying to fill those programs, especially towards the middle of this week. Plan ahead because supply will likely decrease towards the end of the week.”

The News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.

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