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Rainy weather impeding the start of strawberry season

Strawberry Field
A light rain falls on a strawberry field in Santa Maria, just south of Betteravia Road on March 20,2023. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- Constant rain during the winter season has been a welcome sight for the drought-stricken Central Coast, as well as the rest of California.

At the same time, consistent storms have also presented many challenges for local agriculture business, including the world-renowned strawberry crop in Santa Maria Valley.

"It's been extremely, extremely slow," said Innovative Produce chief operating officer Philip Adam. "It's the slowest year since I've been working here. Last year, we started picking in February and we really started rolling in April, but this year, it's going to be start picking in April, and really not get rolling until May and June."

Typically, by mid-March, several strawberry stands can be seen alongside many roads throughout the valley, selling the popular bright red fruit by the basket and cardboard flat.

However, roadside stands are closed. It's an indication of how frequent rain storms have limited the growth of strawberries over the few months.

Cold weather throughout the season, combined with heavy rain, is preventing growers from harvesting significant numbers of strawberries.

"I was just looking at some of the numbers on how cold it's been and I think it's been 50% colder than it was a couple years ago and it's been one of the coldest years since I've been working," said Adam. "All the crops are late, berries especially. (Cold temperatures) just makes growth very slow. Everything looks like it is about a month later than it should be. Plants are smaller. There's not a lot of fruit."

While the red fruit may be small in size, the strawberry crop is a huge economic powerhouse for Santa Barbara County. Last year, the production value of the overall crop $849,729,000, making it by far the number one agricultural crop in the county. Wine grapes were the next largest individual crop at $105,151,000, followed by broccoli at $101,371,000, and cauliflower at $80,299,000.

Since the crop is so vital for the county, and the all the people who are directly tied into it, having the season start as slowly as it has this year is causing some concerns amongst those in the business.

Kathy McPike, owner of The Berry Stop, a berry stand on Stowell Road in Santa Maria, said this is the latest she's never been able to open the stand for business.

McPike added she usually is able to open by Valentine's Day, but due to all the rain, she's now hoping to make it by Easter, which is on Sunday, April 9 this year.

While the rain and cold weather has had its negative drawbacks, it does provide some benefits as well.

"All those salts that are in the soil are going to be lessen and that's going to make the berries grow better," said Adam.

With more rain in the forecast, including later this week, Adam is hoping to see sunnier conditions ahead in the near future.

"We need a little dry weather and some good warm sunshine to get this thing rolling," said Adam. "You're basically going to get more foliage growing. You're going to get those strawberries pushing new crowns. You're going to see fruit starting coming on and ripening."

Looking ahead, Adam believes the strawberry crop will be a good one this year, just a little bit later than usual.

"You're going to have to wait to get that premium fresh fruit from your strawberry stands," said Adam. "It's not that we're not going to have strawberries. I think we're going to have an amazing quantity of strawberries coming, especially for early summer."

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Article Topic Follows: Agriculture
rainstorm impact
santa barbara county
strawberry crops

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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.


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