Strawberry Fields Forever? Maybe not.

Strawberry Fields Forever? Maybe not.

Monday May 23, 2016

Story provided by CAL POLY State University 

California leads the nation in strawberry production with more than 80% of the national supply coming from the state. However, according to a new survey, acreage dedicated to the fruit is down this year. 

The recent survey by the California Strawberry commission found nearly 4-thousand fewer acres in production this year compared to last. The report blamed the decrease on rising production costs and increased regulation on producers.

“We produce about 85-90 of the fresh market strawberries that are sold in this country," Strawberry Center Director, Gerald Holmes said. "Anything we do here effects the rest of the country’s supply, so it’s a big deal for strawberries nationally and internationally.   California is a big player so any big reductions or increases in what goes on here does have a ripple effect on all those other markets.”

According to Holmes, two of the biggest issues continue to be the cost of labor and water.  The labor-intensive crop is one of the most expensive for farmers.

It ranges at about 60 thousand dollars an acre. Holmes said it is one of the most expensive crops in the state. 

"It takes you about 20-thousand dollars just to establish the crop before you’ve ever even harvested a berry or anything," Holmes said. "Just to prep the land, buy the plants, all the labor that goes into planting it and getting the crop established before you harvest a single fruit – you’ve put in 2 to 3 times as much as many crops take for the whole thing.”

With both a shortage of water and labor in the state, that’s exactly what farmers are doing: turning strawberry fields into lower cost and less risky vegetable fields.

“You plant fewer acres, there’s going to fewer harvested berries," Holmes said. "There’s going to be a little increase in demand or that’s the hope at least that it keeps the price decent for the farmers and they can adjust accordingly."

But the Strawberry Commission goes on to say farmers in the state are finding new ways to increase production on those fewer acres helping to keep prices stable for now.  The report credits the University of California’s Strawberry Breeding Program and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s California Strawberry Sustainability Research and Education Center for new developments.

“Now there’s a new focus in the breeding programs to develop varieties that are more tolerant to the soil born diseases," Holmes said.  "I think there’s no question that we will find greater ability to grow these crops in the presence of those organisms in the soil.  Will it be a hundred percent?  No, but it will be a part of the solution.” 

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