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California Giant will have strawberries into November, other berries into September

The late-season berry program at California Giant in Watsonville, CA, involves more than just strawberries. The company will also have California-grown raspberries and blackberries as well as Northwest blueberries well into September, according to Cindy Jewell, marketing director.

“We will probably be in the last portion of the Northwest blueberries from mid-August to mid-September. That is kind of when it winds down,” Jewell said. “We will still have blueberries coming out of British Columbia. It has been a good long season for them. They have had good weather all this month,” and the growers are “looking forward to keeping it going.”

The blueberries, as with the company’s other berries, will be packed in the “California Giant” label.

Some of the blueberries are shipped direct from the Northwest; others are brought down to Watsonville and consolidated with California Giant’s other products.

“It has definitely been a big blueberry season,” Jewell said.

In addition, “we are still doing blackberries and raspberries,” she said. Those are “all from right here in the Watsonville area,” and the program is similar to last year. “We will have those all the way through August and into September,” with the blackberries probably going a little longer than the raspberries.

The big program for fall, however, is strawberries. “We are really focused on the fact that the strawberry season is ongoing,” Jewell said. Good production of some of the best varieties was “still to come.” In particular, “we are really excited about the Monterey variety. The whole discussion this morning in our weekly crop update call was how pleasantly surprised growers are about that.

The Monterey is “a pretty exceptional variety,” she said July 25. “If you go out in the field right now, it doesn’t even look like it is going to be August next week. The plants are very hardy. There are tons of blooms. Size is still really good. Flavor is really good. It is pretty encouraging.”

Jewell said she had been out in a grower’s strawberry field in Watsonville just the day before with a buyer, and “quality is great. We ate strawberries for an hour and a half, so it was very nice.” The grower plans to have “a lot more acres up here next year of the Monterey variety,” she said.

In the Watsonville-Salinas area, “we are having the best luck with the Monterey variety,” she said.

In addition to the Watsonville-Salinas production, which will continue into November, California Giant will also have a fall program in Santa Maria from summer planting. “We will probably see a lot more of the San Andreas [variety] in that region,” Jewell said.

The company has the same acreage in production in Watsonville and Salinas as last year, “but our yields are higher because of the variety that we are growing. “We try to make sure” that the amount planted is justified by customers’ demands, she said. “We try to be grower conscious and return conscious.”

For many years, California Giant did not have “any kind of a program” specifically for the fall harvest, not wanting to compete with what the company’s growers already had in production that would carry into fall. “When you have a Watsonville-Salinas program that goes into November, the last thing you want to do is make a shift in production” that jeopardizes the growers’ abilities to get returns, she said.

With a fall program in Santa Maria this year, “we try to make sure that the fall crop we have in Santa Maria just complements what we have [in Watsonville-Salinas] and doesn’t take away from it,” she said. The Santa Maria program “helps to bolster the volume, as some acreage transitions out in Watsonville-Salinas,” usually for purposes of crop rotation, “so we are able to keep the volume steady.”

Labor availability has been an issue this year. “I guess the fact that we still have workers in our fields is good news,” Jewell said. Five years ago, conversations with growers centered on different issues, but these days the conversations are mostly about “what it takes to keep your work force.”

Workers have become “much more savvy” in finding the best employers to work for and the most advantageous work situations, she said. “They know exactly what variety is being harvested, and they can look at a field and figure out how many trays they will be able to harvest in a day” as well as which styles of packaging are most profitable for them to pack. “So there is a lot of pressure on growers to be very good growers and to be strategic about what varieties they grow” and what kind of packaging they pack.

In August and September, California Giant is partnering with Sony Motion Pictures, tying in with the movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in a campaign to support Feeding America, Jewell said. In October, the company will be involved in a breast cancer awareness program. Also, “we will do some blueberry promotions the beginning of November to kick in the winter season” for blueberries out of Argentina and Chile.