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Revised April, 2019.
California and Florida are the top two strawberry producing states within the U.S., with California producing over 91 percent of the entire strawberry crop (NASS, 2015). Florida, however, produces the majority of the domestic winter strawberry crop (Florida Strawberry Growers Association).
Over the last two decades, the U.S. strawberry industry has experienced an upward trend in per person consumption. This is due to multiple reasons: consumers have more awareness towards the importance of eating a healthy diet; yield improvements have created an expanded domestic supply, and imports allow for year-round availability.
In California, the marketing season for strawberries is nearly year-round. For all other states the marketing season is between March and November, depending on the variety grown (CUESA, n.d.).
A way to add value to fresh strawberries could be starting a U-pick operation. On a U-pick farm, customers harvest the produce themselves. This can allow the farm to save on labor costs during harvesting. Tasks such as grading, storing and packing can also be eliminated (University of Tennessee).
Some very important factors to consider regarding U-pick operations are making sure the site is convenient and appealing to customers. Often U-pick operations will supply a farm stand with already picked product for people who do not have the time, ability or want to pick their own product (University of Tennessee).
If you decide to offer a U-pick operation, make sure to take advantage of free advertisement through sites such as pickyourown.org; whose website provides local listings of farms providing U-pick services.
Processed strawberries usually don’t fetch the higher prices of their fresh counterparts, but they do play a role in strawberry demand (NASS, 2015). To add value, strawberries have been processed a multitude of ways (frozen, dried, syrups and purees, yogurt, etc.) (University of California – ANR). Another way to add value to processed strawberries could be creating specialty items (vinaigrettes, sodas, gluten-free bars) and selling them locally (Pennsylvania State University – Extension). While strawberry flowers are usually left to turn into fruit, they can be used as edible garnish or made into tea.
In 2017, the United States produced 1.6 billion pounds of strawberries, valued at nearly $3.5 billion. Fresh market strawberries accounted for 82 percent of the total strawberry production, with 1.3 billion pounds. In 2017, the average grower price for fresh strawberries was $125/hundredweight. Processing strawberries accounted for the remaining 18 percent, with 300 million pounds (NASS, 2017).
The U.S. strawberry industry is primarily located in the southern and coastal areas in California (Geisseler and Horwath). In 2017, the United States harvested strawberries from 52,700 acres located in 10 states: 38,200 acres in California, 10,700 acres in Florida, and the remaining 3,800 acres from Oregon, North Carolina, Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ohio (NASS, 2017).
Average strawberry yield per acre was 50,500 pounds in 2017, and ranged from 68,000 pounds per acre in California to a low of 3,200 pounds per acre in New York (NASS, 2017). The large range between the yields per state is due to climate differences. California has a temperate climate, therefore allowing a 12-month growing season, and producing a higher yield per acre than other states. The climates of other states limits the growing season to an average of five-months, with some areas having a growing season as short as three weeks (California Strawberry Commission).
There are three types of strawberries: day-neutral, everbearing, and June bearing (each having many varieties). All strawberry plants produce runners (vegetative part of the plant that is capable of producing a new identical plant), however, some types grow more than others. Runners can be both beneficial and costly to an operation (Iowa State University - Extension).
Day-neutral strawberry plants continuously produce fruit throughout the months of July, August and September. Their fruits are similar in size to everbearing types, but smaller than June bearing types. High temperatures promote vegetative growth rather than flowering, and they produce few runners (University of Illinois – Extension).
The name “everbearing” is misleading. Everbearing strawberry plants produce fruit two-three times per year during spring and/or summer and fall. Their fruits are smaller than the June bearing types, and they produce few runners (University of Illinois – Extension,).
June bearing strawberry plants are the most common type used in commercial production. They produce fruit for a two-three week period during the spring or summer depending on the variety (there are early, mid-season and late varieties to choose from). They produce a larger size strawberry and have many runners (StrawberryPlants.org).
A goal of farmers has been to extend the growing season of strawberries while keeping costs low. This can be achieved with high tunnel production. High tunnels are large hoop houses covered in plastic that cost a fraction of greenhouse production. Berries receive a premium price early and late in the season, therefore an extended season allows farmers to acquire a bigger market share (Washington State University).
Helpful enterprise budgets for strawberries:
- Cost and Return Studies for Strawberries, University of California – Davis.
- Kentucky Strawberry Profitability Estimated Costs and Returns for Wholesale/Retail production and Pick Your Own (PYO), University of Kentucky.
- Sample Strawberry Budgets for Plasticulture production and Matted Row production, Pennsylvania State University.
New: Market Report Generator, Iowa State University Extension.
About Strawberries, California Strawberry Commission.
A Farmers Guide to a Pick-Your-Own Operation, University of Tennessee – Extension.
Fruit and Vegetable Marketing for Small-Scale and Part-Time Growers, Pennsylvania State University – Extension.
Geisseler, D., and Horwath, W.R., Strawberry Production in California, CDFA Fertilizer Research and Education Program (FREP).
Growing Strawberries – Types, University of Illinois – Extension.
Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts Summary, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).
Production Guide for Commercial Strawberries, Iowa State University – Extension.
Promoting New Crop of Florida Strawberries, The Florida Strawberry Growers Association.
Seasonality Chart: Fruits and Nuts, Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA).
Strawberries: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy, University of California – Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR).
Strawberry Varieties, StrawberryPlants.org.
Marketing and Production
- North American Strawberry Growers Association – This grower-based association supports ongoing research and educational activities.
- Pickyourown.org. – This website provides local listings of pick-your-own farms in the U.S. and other countries, as well as crop calendars for each local area.
- Strawberries: What Makes Direct-Market Strawberry Farms Successful? – This document discusses the components of the strawberry market.