Volume for bright red, luscious Florida strawberries began peaking in December, and Kenneth Parker, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, said the 2014-15 season would not disappoint.
“This season has been unseasonably cool, which is excellent for quality,” he told The Produce News in mid-December. “This has been one of the best growing seasons ever.”
Cooler conditions did delay the onset of harvest by roughly a week, and activity ramped up at Thanksgiving. Berries, he went on to say, were sizing well with good color, and consumers will be fully satisfied with the sweet taste profile of the Florida crop.
Hillsborough County, the region in which winter strawberry production is situated, is widely regarded as the Strawberry Capital of the World for the winter. Parker said growers cultivated approximately 11,000 acres in the fruit this season.
“Hillsborough County produces about 15 percent of the nation’s strawberries and virtually all the berries grown during the winter,” according to the FSGA web site. “The commodity has an economic impact on our community exceeding $ 700 million. The 20 million flats produced each year, if placed end to end, would extend from Plant City, FL, to Seattle and back again.”
Florida strawberries are typically shipped through through April, and Sue Harrell, the association’s director of marketing, said over 80 percent of the berries will be moved outside the Sunshine State.
“We are the most locally grown, freshest berry to the eastern United States and Canada,” Parker said. “We have excellent infrastructure to get berries moving.”
Transportation is predominantly handled by refrigerated truck due to ease of access to major transportation arteries with maximum delivery times of three days. Parker said this is roughly half the time offered by other growing regions.
On the marketing side, Harrell said the association has partnered with the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services’ Fresh From Florida program, under which producers can display the program logo on their product packaging and signage.
This is the second year for extensive use of the program by strawberry producers. The association has approximately 250 members, 80 of whom are Florida strawberry growers. The association, which has worked in behalf of the industry for 32 years, is a voluntary organization.
“We encourage members to put the Fresh From Florida logo on their packaging,” Harrell stated, adding that the association makes this goal easy for its membership. The association pays for membership in the Fresh From Florida program and reimburses producers for their use of the logo.
“Retailers also use it to identify their Florida commodities,” and restaurants also take advantage of the program, she said.
The Fresh From Florida messaging can also be found on trucks rolling along the I-95 and I-75 corridors, which Harrell said are virtually “moving billboards.”
Winter weather can be dicey, and Harrell said the association’s unique Meteorologists’ Fruit Drop brightens up Valentine’s Day in 22 markets in the northeastern United States.
“Twenty-two flats of strawberries are shipped,” she said, with information about Florida strawberries accompanying the deliveries. And meteorologists are happy to give the association some air time to promote the fresh Florida fruit, she said.