Well-Pict Inc., headquartered in Watsonville, CA, has strawberry production in several California districts as well as in Baja California, Mexico, and in each location it grows proprietary varieties from its own breeding programs, which are selected to give the best results and the best possible flavor and eating experience from that particular district, according to Sales Manager Dan Crowley.
In the Watsonville district, “We made the switch last year to our 9271 variety,” Mr. Crowley told The Produce News. “It will be 100 percent of our production up here this year.” One reason is because of its level production curve. “Rather than a peak, it is more of a plateau. Once it gets to volume, it pretty much maintains that volume for a long period of time,” he said.
In the Oxnard district, which kicks off the California season, Well-Pict is growing predominantly its proprietary 269 variety. “Our Oxnard crop takes off like a rocket ship” once the harvest starts, he said. It climbs rapidly, hits a peak and then “comes off rather rapidly on the backside.”
But with the variety being grown in Watsonville, “It just maintains volume over a longer period of time,” he said. “That is what you want, because it is a long growing season up here.”
Well-Pict also has strawberry production in the Santa Maria district, where the company switched this year to its proprietary 1975 variety as well as its new 125 variety, differentiating the district from both Watsonville and Oxnard. The company’s variety selection in Santa Maria gives it an earlier harvest profile than Watsonville without conflicting with Oxnard’s big push, he explained.
The varieties all share some similar characteristics, most notably large fruit with a high flavor profile, according to Mr. Crowley.
Because of colder-than-normal temperatures in January and February this year, all districts are running about three weeks behind expectations. But Mr. Crowley expected “ample availability and promotional opportunities” for the entire month of April and beyond.
Since the cold weather has affected growing regions up and down the state, that will still allow each area to get “its distinctive peak harvested and through the marketplace prior to the next district’s peak,” he said.
Oxnard’s volume will come on strong in time for Easter, with the real peak being the first three weeks of April.
In Santa Maria, “we’ve just begun walking the fields,” but volume is still “well off,” probably early to mid May, he said.
Watsonville will typically hit its stride for Well-Pict in late May or early June, but that could come “a little later this year,” Mr. Crowley said. Once the Watsonville harvest gets rolling, “it maintains good volume through the summer,” tapering off in the fall. “We go into October with it,” he said. “Then we transition back to our fall crop in Oxnard.”
The 9271 variety has “an excellent flavor profile and really a nice appearance, with nice shoulders and a conical shape,” he said. “It has great eye appeal, with a healthy-looking calyx and a very nice aroma as well. But first and foremost is flavor.”
In addition, “we love the harvest profile” of that variety, he added. “It just charges along for a longer period of time.”
The Well-Pict variety-development program is now in its third decade. “We’ve got test plots in all the districts, with the main operation up here in Watsonville,” Mr. Crowley said. “The microclimates dictate the varieties we grow there so each district has its own distinctive variety we are growing at this point in time, and it just behooves us to have that kind of a program going because what works in the south doesn’t work up here and vice versa.”
Variety development is “a long and arduous process,” Mr. Crowley said. “Once you select a variety, it is another seven years getting commercial production for that variety.” It is an endeavor with a multi-million-dollar annual budget and no guarantee that any winners will come out of the effort. “But we chose to go in that direction, and it has paid off very well for us. It allows us to distinguish ourselves from others,” he said.