California Strawberries At A Glance
California is the nation's leading producer of strawberries. In 2003, growers harvested an average 1.8 billion pounds of strawberries, which accounted for 88 percent of the country's total fresh and frozen strawberry production. The coast of California has a unique environment. Its western ocean exposure provides moderate temperatures year round with warm sunny days and cool foggy nights — the perfect combination for growing delicious, beautiful strawberries!
The value of the California strawberry crop is approximately $1.1 billion. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, strawberries are the seventh most valuable fruit crop produced in California.
Acreage and Growing Districts
Statewide, strawberries will be produced on over 32,000 acres in 2005.
Coastal California's rich sandy soil and temperate climate extends the strawberry growing region 500 miles up the coast from San Diego to the Monterey Bay. Strawberry production starts in the south and works its way north. San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura counties begin production in early January (sometimes late December) and continue through June with fresh-market shipments usually peaking in April. In the Santa Maria area, north of Oxnard, harvest usually starts in March and continues into July. Deliveries to processors in Santa Maria continue through August.
California's northern strawberry growing region is south of San Francisco and includes Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties and some acreage in Santa Clara and San Benito counties. The cities of Watsonville and Salinas account for almost half of the state's strawberry acreage. Shipments from northern areas begin in April, peak in May or June, and continue through November. In fact, year round production has been achieved several times in the last decade, including the 2003 season.
Growing & Harvesting
Strawberries are grown as an annual crop in California. The plants are first grown in a nursery and then transplanted into the soil by growers. Plants are replaced each year following the harvesting period and lay dormant in production fields through the winter. Nursery plants destined for strawberry production fields are planted in October or November for winter planting or in late July through September for summer planting.
California's 12-month growing season contributes to higher strawberry yields per acre than any other growing area. Other areas of the country have shorter production cycles, from an average of five-months to as short as a few weeks.
All California strawberries are hand picked to ensure only the highest quality berries are harvested. Strawberry plants continually produce new fruit throughout their production cycle, and during peak season plants are harvested every three days. Of all the California strawberries produced each year, approximately 75 percent are harvested for the fresh market, while about 25 percent are frozen for the processed market. Fresh strawberries are rushed to coolers, where huge fans pull out the field heat, and then shipped within 24 hours on refrigerated trucks or air freighted to their final destination. Strawberries selected for processing are gently washed, sorted and frozen quickly to ensure the best flavor and appearance is retained. Berries are sliced, pureed or kept whole for freezing.
Approximately 12 percent of the California strawberry crop is annually exported. Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Japan are the largest importers. Canada receives the majority of California's fresh strawberries, and Japan is the largest frozen California strawberry importer.
Care and handling California strawberries are fully ripe at the time they are picked and do not continue to ripen after picking. The berries you buy should have a bright red color, natural shine and fresh looking green caps. Strawberries should always be refrigerated and kept dry until just before use. Leave green caps on and wash berries with a gentle spray of cool water. After washing, remove the green caps from the berries with a light twist or with the point of a paring knife.
The 11th Annual MONTEREY BAY STRAWBERRY FESTIVAL will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 6 and Sunday, August 7 in the historic downtown plaza in Watsonville. The celebration will serve up a menu of delectable strawberry delights, along with non-stop community entertainment, gooey contests for berry lovers, a special children's area with strawberry projects, carnival and much more.
Back to the Monterey Bay Strawberry Festival Home Page