Celebrate Labor Day With California Strawberries!

Add California Strawberries to Your Labor Day Event


By Laurie Greene, Editor


Many people will be out and about with an extra day off on Labor Day, trying to get that last swallow of summer. They’ll crowd beaches, lakes, parks and backyard BBQs. What better way to celebrate the achievements of American workers than to add fresh-picked California strawberries to the menu?

Carolyn O'Donnell
Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director, California Strawberry Commission


“Any holiday can be celebrated with strawberries as they are available year-round,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director of the California Strawberry Commission in Watsonville. “Strawberries are one of the most popular fruits around. They are sweet but low in sugar, and they are quite nutritious. People are often surprised to find out that having just eight medium strawberries gives you more vitamin C than eating an orange,” she said.


“Grown year-round, right now strawberries are coming mostly from the Salinas-Watsonville area on the Central Coast and also in the Santa Maria area,” noted O’Donnell. “As we get more into the fall there will be less coming from the northern sections and more from the Ventura County area to the south. Eventually strawberries will come out of Orange County and Northern San Diego County. The crop will roll back up the coast again with the New Year. By next April or May, strawberries will be coming mostly from the Watsonville area again,” O’Donnell explained.

generational_small strawberries


O’Donnell said that strawberry growers are very dedicated to growing the best possible product they can for their customers. “Their strawberries are actually often a crop of opportunity. A number of our farmers started as field workers and were able to work their way up to owning a farm because you can produce a lot of fruit and make a good living on a small amount of land.”


O’Donnell said supplies should be plentiful in the grocery store. “We probably have more fruit this time of year than usual probably because rain this past winter delayed harvest, which was good news. Now we’re just working our way along. Folks in the Watsonville areas are also beginning to start preparing their other pieces of fallow ground so that they can plant around Thanksgiving and produce next year’s crop,” she said.


Photos: Courtesy of California Strawberry Commission

Winegrapes: New acreage helps offset drought impacts

Source: Steve Adler; Ag Alert

Although per-acre yields may be down in some regions due to drought and other concerns, California farmers expect to produce another large winegrape crop this year, as a result of increased acreage. Winegrape harvest has started throughout California, primarily for early varieties of white grapes that are destined to become sparkling wines.

Government estimates issued last week placed California winegrape acreage at 570,000 acres in 2013, up from 508,000 the previous year. About 45,000 of the 2013 winegrape acres were classified as non-bearing.

With the harvest beginning in most areas from 10 days to two weeks earlier than usual, the biggest concern among growers is that many wineries do not yet appear prepared to receive the grapes.

“Being this early, I don’t believe the wineries were prepared to open on time, so right out of the gate we had some quality issues because of early ripeness and delays on the winery side,” Tulare County winegrape grower JR Shannon said. “We’ve barely been picking for two weeks and it is already showing signs that the winery tanks are still full from last year and they aren’t very eager to get grapes in right away.”

Noting that harvest will continue for several more weeks, Shannon said many wineries haven’t even opened yet.

“The early signs are that it is going to be a long, non-grower-friendly season and the wineries are showing no excitement about anything except pinot grigio. We spent a lot of money planting these new vineyards for them and they are not cooperating in getting the grapes into the wineries,” he said.

That view was supported by Nat DiBuduo, president and CEO of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno, who said there is real concern among growers who don’t have contracts with wineries.

“We are getting reports of some of the larger wineries that have decided to bottle as needed, which means the tanks are full. We know the 2012 crop and the 2013 crop were big, and what that has created is that they aren’t buying any more grapes than what has been contracted for. And there are a lot of grapes that aren’t contracted,” he said.

DiBuduo said the vast majority of grapes are under long-term contracts, but there are some that don’t have contracts and growers in that situation are just waiting for wineries to start buying them.

“I hope the wineries start to realize that this is going to be a lighter crop. They will all honor their contracts, but I am hopeful that they will recognize the smaller crop and buy these other grapes. The speculation is that some of these wineries will come out with lower prices when all of these growers are in panic mode,” he said.

In Lodi, winegrape grower Joe Valente of Kautz Farms said harvest at his vineyards would begin this week, putting it 10 days earlier than usual.

“It is probably one of the earliest or second-to-the-earliest starts that I have seen here in Lodi in the past 35 years. We are starting this week, but it all depends on the sugars. Ideally, once we get started we can keep going, but it is all dictated by the sugars,” he said.

Valente also expressed concern about a potential shortage of tank space for this year’s grapes.

“The last two years were large crops, and how empty the tanks are going into harvest will dictate how much we will be able to pick. It depends on the varietals that are in demand. They will find room in the tanks for certain varieties that are in demand,” he said.

On the South Coast, grape grower Jeff Frey of Santa Maria said he has heard talk of tank shortages, but at this point it doesn’t appear to be an issue in his area. A bigger issue for coastal growers is the ongoing drought, he said.

“The situation concerning drought on the South Coast depends on where you are at. We haven’t had any rain to speak of, but growers who were able to irrigate through the winter are looking pretty good. We have a pretty good crop set and we will start harvesting next week, which is very early for us. I have a few vineyards that are out of the periphery that have wells that are going dry and there isn’t much water, so those yields will be down,” he said.

In the Paso Robles area, grower Neil Roberts of Templeton said he is very pleased with the way winegrapes developed this year.

“The crop looks average in size, which is probably a good thing, and the quality looks tremendous,” Roberts said. “We’ve been OK with water. Some of the shallower wells have had some issues, but overall there weren’t any problems. If everything goes well, we should be done by the end of October.”

DiBuduo said the drought is having an impact in the San Joaquin Valley as well. The quality of the grapes being produced is fine and sugar levels are good, but the berries and the bunches are smaller, he said.

“It appears that the overall crop will be lighter than last year and a lot of it has to do with the drought. Growers have tried to maintain the vines and keep them as fresh as possible, but we are hearing from all over the place about growers’ pumps going out and it has been taking several weeks for the pump repair people to take care of the problem,” he said.

Shannon, too, has been having problems with lack of water. He said he has been forced to pay up to $1,200 an acre-foot for water that in a normal year costs $60.

“It is kind of salt in the wound right now with all the other issues we have been dealing with,” he said. “Hopefully the groundwater will last another three months.”

Shannon said he has three or four wells out of commission waiting for pump repair, calling 2014 “the toughest year in my experience.”

Valente said that so far this season, he hasn’t had any problem with wells.

“Our concern is groundwater legislation and what that might mean to us. We keep hearing that farmers aren’t managing our groundwater, and I truly believe that the state and federal governments aren’t managing our surface water,” he said.

CAPCA’s Terry Stark: Biopesticides More Mainstream

Stark Speaks About CAPCA and its Role in the Biopesticide Industry.

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor


Terry Stark, President and CEO of California Association of Pest Control Advisors (CAPCA,) told 140 attendees at the Biopesticide Industry Alliance semi-annual early April meeting in Sacramento, what his organization thinks about the softer pest and disease control products.

“CAPCA represents 3,000 members of the 4,000 licensed-PCAs in California.

We have expanded our educational outreach through CAPCA-ED. We run 40 seminars annually throughout the state to aid all license-holders to improve their categories,” Stark announced,” said Stark.

“The regulatory burden pushes us to be better and more advanced,” Stark said. “CAPCA has 16 chapters, and each chapter has a director seated on the state board. My Chairman of the board is Jeremy Briscoe a Certis USA national manager. So I believe CAPCA is very well integrated with the biopesticide industry. Jeremy is the first representative that is a non-retail, non-independent to serve as the chair of CAPCA. This is a big move in the mentality of what we do,” said Stark.

CAPCA has traditionally centered on the San Joaquin Valley – production agriculture – the heart and soul of diversified agriculture and the money. “However, in the last 10 years, the wine industry has taken a step higher than the our other crops. All of a sudden we have Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, and southward to Santa Maria and Ventura County.”

Stark explained that everything west of I-5 tended to be the “softer side” of PCAs and chemical use in California. “I say that with respect because the wine industry was looking for ways to use less conventional products, ways to brand both organically and sustainability and with lower tolerances for their products. That caught on solidly seven or eight years ago.” Stark continued, “My largest independent PCAs are between Mendocino and San Francisco.”

“Like my Ventura guys and gals, they use more biological controls by releasing a lot of beneficials,” said Stark. “And it’s hard to come in with a hard-core application and maintain your beneficial populations,” he said.

When Stark was asked to speak at the Biopesticide Alliance meeting, he was asked to talk about perceptions. “I reflected on what I saw as a manager when they hired me to come to CAPCA. You talk about perception of biopesticides, with all due respect to my membership, 30 percent think that it’s one way or the highway.

In the central part of the state, from Kern County and throughout the desert valleys, it’s still spray and run. It’s big business, big acres. But it has its place,” said Stark.

He spoke about California being a hodgepodge of the most invasive species in the world, with many new pests coming in seemingly every week.

“Our entire citrus industry is facing Asian Citrus Psyllid which vectors the deadly citrus greening disease; we just survived the Glassy-winged sharpshooters in the wine industry; and, we’ve got Shot-hole bores coming to avocados. This represents huge production areas,” he said.

CAPCA has recognized that there are new ideas in pest and disease control and has moved towards being able to incorporate other chemistries, pheromones, and other items into the tool chest.


CAPCA’s Aging Demographics

Stark shared some demographics of CAPCA. “In CAPCA meetings, I don’t see a lot of dark-haired people sitting in the room. I don’t see a lot of females sitting in the room.

Our gender is 10-15 percent females,” he said.

Seventy five percent of my membership has 16-plus years of experience as PCAs. CAPCA also manages 1,000 Certified Crop Advisor (CCAs) who focus on nutrient recommendations, and the same demographics carry over to them. Of that, 35 percent have 30-plus years of experience. Do you think many will work past 30 years?

CAPCA’s last membership survey was done in 2010. We are projecting a 20% loss of membership by 2015. And that continues outward in a five-year cycle.

Through the Department of Pest Regulations we are only testing maybe 12-15 percent maximum replacements with young PCAs coming into the cycle.

How do we survive? We are turning to electronics, iPhones, and iPads.

PCAs have to be licensed in California if you are using restricted-use materials, soliciting for sale, and/or acting as an expert thereof. That takes care of the whole sales group too.

So, in biopesticides, you’re outside of that umbrella in most ways. You have some products that you to play with, but overall, that gives a “softer approach” for the younger PCAs to look at.


 Working Areas of PCAs

Sixteen percent of PCAs work in field and row crops; 34 percent in trees & vines, the only ones getting water this year; vegetables at 12 percent; and turf and ornamentals –10 percent. Turf and ornamentals in California drop 50 percent in the last 5 years with the collapse of the housing and commercial real estate industries, plus golf courses, they have had a pullback. So our members have moved to retail and other areas.

If you are in PAC and you are in retail, you represent 30 percent of the industry. Eighteen percent are independents, and that means you truly do your own thing: if you have alfalfa, you have 20,000 acres you’re looking at; if you have citrus, you’ve got 3-5,000 acres; if you have vineyards, you’d better have 2-3000 acres to pay for it—if you want to make big money—and you’re working 7 days a week to do that. Seventeen percent are in-house; these are the Paramount’s and the Boswells of the industry. They hire CCAs and PCAs like full-time employee of the ranch.

The dynamics of I-5 is not moving into the Central Valley or into the southern counties. You have pockets of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara where you have nursery stocks, that‘s always been kind of open to the biopesticides industry and its products.

What I think has made the biopesticide industry successful, beyond all of your research, hard work and marketing, are the opportunities and the new wave of using your thumbs, and twitter, and communications, and Facebook, and social media in general. The outreach that you can do your business on the iPhone and still drive down the road, answering your clients’ questions has enabled the “boutique” industry in the last 5 years to come closer to the mainstream because customers don’t have to do any special work to find out about you. You are in their feed lines of information. These are important tools,” said Stark.

“California is a highly-regulated environment, so electronics has complemented other resources. I think the known fact that many products are less toxic is a huge benefactor,” he said.

“Take the Light Brown Apple Moth, which ended up being a environmental community PR campaign that kicked food and agriculture’s butt in California. And now every fruit tree in Santa Cruz is going to die from the apple moth. You can’t even move the firewood because it will contaminate the rest of the area,” Stark said.

The unknown elements of a pheromone to treat the moth were a big problem because the public did not understand, and the industry took it for granted. “The pheromone is about as soft and appropriate as you can get in the marketplace,” said Stark. “But we need to approach the public in a different way. And I think the biopesticide industry is doing a much better job,” he said.

“I’d be remiss with all of the large companies sitting in the room, the BASF’s, Syngenta’s, Bayer’s, the Valent’s—all have learned to adopt and bring into their tool chest additional products that can complement their conventional materials and usually make the grower more profit,” noted Stark.

“CAPCA doesn’t get into this much, but we have a lot regulatory obligation responsibility to protect the field worker. The toxicity and the life of the product go a long way in how you get back into the field,” he said.

“So, in the biopesticide world, you have a better opportunity of targeting the exact pest you need to target. It’s not a broad-spectrum-type deal. So that gives you the advantage. My PCAs see that– my 50 percent younger side in the house – sees that. And that’s a positive for this industry,” Stark said.

IPM is not a word that is understood until you get to California. CAPCA cannot do anything in his recommendation without being CEQA-oriented (California Environmental Quality Act) must look for alternative uses before any restrictive material can be made; otherwise he is in violation of his own recommendation. IPM, and biopesticide products fit that requirement to make that check mark when they do that.

“In addition, biologicals are lower priced than they ware 7-8 years ago. And that’s good because the grower doesn’t spend a dime more than they have to. If you think PCAs are out there pounding product or fertilizer on, and the farmer is not making any money, just three minutes later in the coffee shop, that guy is fired and another is hired,” Stark said.

“It is important to the sustainability in going forward, when you have a regulatory environment like we do in California. We have a built-in arena here and people are always listening to what can be done better and still make a profit. In my opinion, you are off to the races and biopesticides are mainstream now,” noted Stark.

If you can hit 15-20% of the marketplace, it’s been a great quarter-century run for you to get there and I think the CAPCA membership is looking forward to a long-lasting relationship.

He reminded attendees of the popular CAPCA Conference, Oct. 19-21, 2014 at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. “I have 1,300 attendees and 150 exhibitors. What better place to be than with 800-900 license holders. It’s all relationships. Once you get the relationship, your social media, and your electronics, your product will sell itself,” Stark concluded.