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Early start to Florida strawberry season

The first flat of Florida strawberries was harvested in Plant City on Tuesday of this week. “We’ve never started this early,” says Matthew Giddings with Always Fresh Farms. It is a good window as volume from California has slowed down, and Mexico is slower to start up. Additionally, imports from Mexico are lower as the country’s strawberries increasingly stay in the domestic market. “Mexicans eat a lot more strawberries than they used to,” said Giddings. These lower supplies result in healthy demand that usually increases as more local Florida product becomes available. “We are able to pick the berries riper, and as a result, they are more flavorful than the Fall varieties we see now in California and Mexico,” he added. “The season ramps up around Thanksgiving with Christmas and Valentine’s Day being two peak consumption times.”

To grow more flavorful strawberries and encourage an increase in consumption, the University of Florida has been working on developing new varieties that have a better size, improved shelf-life, and are disease-resistant. One of these new varieties is the Medallion. “It was already planted last year, but it is more widely available this year,” said Giddings. Other new varieties include Brilliance and Sensation.

The first flat of strawberries was picked this past Tuesday, proudly shown by a future grower.

Acreage increase
Overall, this year’s Florida strawberry volume is expected to be up compared to last year’s. “More acreage was planted across the state because everyone wants to eat strawberries,” Giddings commented. Always Fresh Farms used to grow strawberries in Plant City only, but the company has entered into new parts of the Sunshine State and now also grows strawberries in Manatee County, south of Plant City. Other growers are planting more heavily in Polk, which is to the East. The company grows conventional and organic strawberries, with the share of organic amounting to approximately 15 percent this year.

Minimum wage increase
While the new season looks promising and Always Fresh Farms is excited to get going, returns are probably the biggest factor of concern at the moment. “We’ve been faced with significant input cost increases and are hoping to recoup those expenses through a higher price for the berries. “Minimum wage for H2A has gone up and is expected to increase further soon. It has resulted in labor costs seeing the biggest jump. However, costs for fertilizers, chemicals, fuel, etc. have also gone up.” Nevertheless, Florida growers and marketers are resilient and ready to serve all of North America until April 1.

For more information:
Matthew Giddings
Always Fresh Farms
Tel.: (+1) 863-401-3404
[email protected]