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Letter from Leadership

California strawberry farmers have a century-long history of working together. Since 1956, strawberry farmers have worked together via the California Strawberry Advisory Board, which was amended in 1993 to the California Strawberry Commission. For the past five years, strawberry farming has faced many challenges, and the Commission has played an immeasurable role in helping strawberry farming to survive in California.

Five years ago, California strawberry farming faced unprecedented challenges. Indicators suggested that wholesale prices had peaked, while the cost of production was forecast to increase at dramatic rates. Simultaneously, historic budget reductions to the University of California, combined with a wave of retirements, resulted in the permanent loss of long-time scientist and farm advisor positions that had supported strawberry farming for a generation. The UC Strawberry Breeding Program faced the retirement of plant breeders, and the uncertainty of continuing release of strawberry plants to farmers. Methyl bromide was in the final phase-out and the future of alternative treatments for soil disease were uncertain. Labor shortages started to appear, and the federal government was unable to accomplish immigration reform.

Today, California strawberry farming is in the middle of a transformation. In 2014, California strawberry farmers harvested 230 million (230,087,341) assessed trays of strawberries from 38,966 acres, achieving near record-levels of efficiency, at 5,905 trays per acre. In 2018, 250 million (250,909,323) assessed trays of strawberries were harvested from 33,838 acres; establishing a new record, of 7,415 trays per acre. The changes from 2014 to 2018 reflect a 13 percent decline in acreage, while simultaneously increasing total production by nine percent and increasing production efficiency by 40 percent. However, to achieve these production efficiencies in accordance with California requirements, costs have skyrocketed. As a result of these skyrocketing costs to farm in California, 25% of strawberry farmers are now gone.

To help navigate through this storm, the Commission staff and Board of Directors have worked hard to address the challenges of the past five years and rebuild a foundation for the industry. Key initiatives and milestones follow, highlighting this work.

Research to Support Strawberry Farming

  • The UC Strawberry Plant Breeding Program has been revitalized. The public release of new plant varieties has been announced, and new plant breeding techniques are being implemented.
  • UC faculty, specialists, and advisors have received more than one million dollars in support to conduct strawberry research and support to California strawberry farmers.
  • A new Strawberry Center at Cal Poly SLO was created to add new resources and a diagnostic laboratory to support California strawberry farmers.
  • A new automation program was started to facilitate development of labor-saving automation for strawberry production. Currently, nine privately funded automated harvest machine projects are in progress.
  • Commission research demonstrating organic fumigation (anaerobic soil disinfestation) and new emission reduction technology (TIF) have been adopted to treat soil disease.
  • A new generation of skilled college graduates are being trained at both UC and Cal Poly SLO, with nearly 30 individuals entering the strawberry workforce.

Training to Support a Culture of Best Practices

  • Updated strawberry food safety program to meet and exceed federal food safety standards established by FSMA.
  • Advanced the largest program in America to translate agricultural best practices into Spanish and other language-neutral content for on-farm employees.
  • Trained an average of 3200 strawberry field employees in 40 courses and 100+ on-farm trainings annually.
  • Initiated workshops with federal compliance officials to help industry navigate the complexities of the H-2A guest worker program to respond to labor shortages
  • Provide transformative learning workshops for on-farm employees to gain confidence in their ability to be leaders in the areas of food safety, production practices and regulatory compliance.

Public Policy & Issue Management to Preserve Strawberry Farming

  • Addressed legislative and regulatory proposals.
  • Supporting strawberry exports through the expansion and retention of markets, such as Thailand protocol, Canadian Strawberry Promotion Council, and Market Access to China.
  • Maintaining existing crop protection tools, and advancement of alternatives.
  • Provide issues management and crisis response support. For example: responded to wildfire safety issues during the Thomas, Hill, and Woolsey fires: developed SOPs to address air quality and fieldworker safety; responses to public and media queries.
  • Supported doubling of USDA-AMS frozen strawberry purchase.

Marketing to Promote California Strawberries

  • Commission marketing efforts reached U.S. consumers more than 1.5 billion times.
  • In a 2017 national survey, consumers ranked strawberries as America’s favorite fruit and favorite fresh berry (77 percent).
  • Purchase intent for strawberries is at an all-time high, with nine in ten consumers indicating they definitely/probably would buy fresh strawberries, up from 82 percent from 2013.
  • Reported fresh strawberry consumption increased significantly in 2017, with 45 percent of the respondents eating them, “more than once a week,” (up from 29 percent in 2013) – putting strawberries alongside bananas as one of the most consumed fruits in America.
  • Leader in human health research with 20 peer-reviewed publications by Commission-funded university scientists since 2012, in efforts to become the first fruit in America to receive a health claim from FDA.
  • Positive press coverage of strawberries increased from 66 percent in 2011 to 86 percent in 2016.

Commitment in Action: Social Responsibility

California strawberry farming serves the public interest by both the individual efforts made by farmers, shippers, and processors, as well as their collective efforts through the California Strawberry Commission.

Industry Contributions to Social Responsibility

California strawberry farming is among the most sustainable crops in America – utilizing less than ½ a percent of California’s farmland, strawberry farmers make the fourth largest economic contribution to California’s agricultural economy. Additionally, California strawberry farming create the most on-farm jobs of any crop in America, with thousands of managerial positions, as farm workers are promoted to foremen and ranch managers. In fact, more than 25% of California strawberry farmers first started as farm workers. As a result, California strawberry farming has generated more minority small business than any other crop in America – initially with Japanese farmers in the mid 1900’s and more recently with Latino farmers. The strawberries produced on these farms play another important role. As the favorite fruit of school-age children, strawberries are a gateway to healthy eating habits. California strawberry farmers grow more organic strawberries than all other 49 states combined.

Collective Contributions to Social Responsibility

The desire to work together through the California Strawberry Commission has resulted in world-class research on environmentally friendly farming - invested more research funding to alternative fumigants than any other crop in the world, the development of the first commodity specific food safety guideline, and an award winning food safety program, the largest program in America to translate agricultural best practices into Spanish and other language neutral content for on-farm employees and one of the largest scholarship programs in America for children of farm workers. The highlights in this report, reflect a portion of the many functions that the Commission performs to support California strawberry farming. While these highlights are noteworthy, we must make even more progress during the coming five years. These next five years will likely be even more disruptive than the past five years. Working together through the Commission will give strawberry farmers the best chance to find success.


Rick Tomlinson
President



Lorena Chavez
Chair, 2015-2017

Thomas AmRhein
Chair, 2017-2019

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For more than a decade, the California Strawberry Commission has maintained a nutrition research program with the overarching goal to increase awareness, improve understanding, and realize the potential of the extraordinary health benefits of strawberries. This initiative contributes to the existing literature and has helped to transform scientific inquiry from asking not if strawberries positively influence human health, but how.

CSC funded research grants resulted in 17 peer-reviewed publications and abstracts since 2012. Advancing strawberry health science has positioned CSC as a leader among berry commodity groups and a resource for registered dietitians and health professional organizations. In 2015, the CSC board of directors established the pursuit of a cardiovascular health claim as a strategic priority. Currently, eight clinical research projects are ongoing exploring the impact of consuming 1 to 3 servings of strawberries daily on cholesterol, blood lipid levels, and vascular health endpoints.





The commission is on the leading edge of using digital platforms to engage consumers and build awareness, particularly moms under 40 years of age. Over the last 5 years there have been dramatic changes in how shoppers engage with brands and seek information on food. In 2015, Advertising Age noted that 68% of consumers used mobile while grocery shopping to research nutritional info and watch videos for information, while Facebook was edging out the top TV networks in reaching Millennial and Latino audiences. Nielsen (2017) reported that consumers spend more time in their day consuming media online than any other activity – even sleeping – an average of 10 ½ hours per day.

From 2015-2017, the commission promoted the benefits of adding 1 serving of strawberries - #8aday – to consumers in partnership with RD spokespersons and blogger influencers.

Highlights:



  • Strawberries are America’s favorite fruit. About one-third of consumers named strawberries as their favorite in a national survey conducted in 2017, significantly more than any other fruit.
  • They are also the favorite fresh berry - over three-quarters named strawberries as their favorite fresh berry (77%) – again significantly higher than all of the others.
  • Purchase intent for strawberries is at an all-time high, with nine in ten consumers indicating they definitely/probably would by fresh strawberries, up from 82 percent from 2013.
  • Reported fresh strawberry consumption increased significantly in 2017, with 45% of the respondents eating them “more than once a week” (up from 29% in 2013) – putting them more or less in line with bananas, which has historically been the most popular fresh fruit.
  • Frequency of consumption is increasing. The percentage of consumers who fall into the “heavy fresh strawberry consumption” group (eating at least once a week) has grown – from 35% in 2010 to 52% in 2013 and 67% in 2017, with the number of “light users” shrinking – from a high of 31% in 2010 to 8% in 2017.


  • In 2017, the top three factors considered when purchasing fresh strawberries included fresh appearance, organic, and high in vitamin C. Organic, vitamin C, and low in sugar had the most significant increases compared to 2013.

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Cal Poly Strawberry Center

In February 2013, California strawberry farmers and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo formed a landmark partnership, establishing the first-ever Strawberry Center in California. This institute serves as a model for California agriculture, modernizing research to create an innovative, collaborative and high-impact approach to help California strawberry farmers remain sustainable for the future.


Best Practices On The Farm

Irrigation Management

Sustainable water management is a cornerstone of best management practices for strawberry production. Irrigation management research has resulted in numerous tools to help strawberry growers optimize water delivery and maximize for premium fruit quality, using flowmeters, soil moisture monitoring equipment, and scheduling tools.

 

 One acre strawberries uses approximately the same amount of water as an acre of suburban housing.


Bug Vacuum Optimization

Research to optimize bug vacuums include the addition of front plates, and identification of ideal ground and wind speeds leading to widespread adoption for lygus control, and reducing insecticide applications.

  $100 annual million economic damage estimated due to lygus.

  Research identified practices to improve bug vacuum efficiency from 2-3% to over 15%.

  Training ranch personnel can improve bug vacuum efficiency at least 50%, helping to reduce pesticide use.


Sprayer Calibration

On-farm research helped identify best management practices in managing spray rigs, ensuring that equipment is delivering the proper product amounts to the plants.
Workshops train ranch personnel about the basics of spray deposition and drift management, plus detailed calibration procedures for boom sprayers. Specialized manuals, and a smart phone app for calibration calculations were developed in-house, available in both Spanish and English.


Between 2016 and 2018, commission staff provided on-farm technical assistance:

  More than 250 people trained from 80 companies.

  More than 180 spray rigs evaluated.

  More than 327 ranches visited.

Revitalizing UC Breeding Program

California growers have supported breeding efforts at the University of California, Davis for over 50 years. The program has released varieties used by growers throughout California and the world, with a renewed focus on producing disease-resistant varieties.
As tools to control soilborne diseases become less available, continued cultivation in fields with diseases present will rely on strawberry varieties with inherent resistance to these diseases.

Click Here for more information on the University of California Strawberry Breeding Program:


Farming Without Fumigants

Soilborne diseases can be crippling for growers, as no effective postplant control exists. In 2008, California strawberry growers identified “Farming without Fumigants” as a research priority area. University, USDA, and commission staff conduct research to identify cultural practices to mitigate soilborne disease to sustain strawberry farming, and preserve fumigant alternatives. Past research focused on the efficacy of organic amendments in anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD), management of soil microbial communities to limit soilborne disease, and alternative production systems.

Strawberry farmers continue to invest in research for fumigant alternatives and remain committed to implementing the toughest regulations in the world. For example, California is the only state in the nation that adds extra precautions at the state level through CalEPA and at the local level through the County Agricultural Commissioners. The extra state and local precautions do not exist in other states.

Click Here for more Farm Research


Investing in Employees: Workforce Development

California's strawberry farmers work hard to create a safe, positive, and productive work environment for employees to thrive and become leaders in their jobs and communities. The commission's unique program delivers leadership, management, and safety training to more than 3,000 employees annually, providing continuing education and skills development for midlevel farm management workers.


Food safety is a top priority for California strawberry farmers. Twenty years ago, they were one of the first groups to develop a commodity-specific food safety program. Continuous improvement to this program produced a robust training program with field-ready tools and was recognized with an NSF International Food Safety Award in Education.

Training Program
  • 3,200 people trained annually.
  • 69% acreage impacted by participating personnel.
  • Majority of participants attend entire series of food safety workshops.

Most farmworkers learn their craft on-the-job as apprentices to veteran employees. As technology and the workforce evolve, the commission offers educational opportunities for employees to increase their knowledge to better implement the best production practices available. Interactive classes have included sprayer calibration, bug vacuum optimization and irrigation & nutrient management.

Calibrate Your Sprayer

This training is recommended for employees that operate, maintain or make decisions with spray equipment on the ranch. We will discuss challenges and offer recommendations to improve spray rig performance. Topics will include tips for calculating the correct amount of spray per acre, tractor speed, avoiding drift, best practices for replacing nozzles and conventional spray rig maintenance.

Making the Most of Your Bug Vacuum

The bug vacuum can be an important tool to help control lygus and other pests during the season. This demonstration will show ways to significantly improve vacuum performance. Topics include component modifications, maintenance and worker training.

Irrigation and Nutrient Management

This program promotes the implementation of irrigation and nutrient best management practices. Workshops are designed for anyone that makes irrigation-related decisions on the ranch, including irrigators, ranch managers and growers. The hands-on, bilingual workshops cover basic principles & best practices for irrigation system design, operation and scheduling.


Farms in California adhere to the most stringent safety standards in the world. The California Strawberry Commission promotes a safe and productive workplace by offering growers, human resource professionals and management-level employees training in heat illness prevention and sexual harassment prevention, among other topics helping growers navigate the complex standards required to ensure a safe workplace.

Sexual Harassment Prevention

Participants learn to identify different kinds of sexual harassment, how to respond to sexual harassment situations, and the requirement of a sexual harassment policy. Class includes information and practical guidance related to regulations, prohibitions, prevention, correction and remedies for sexual harassment at work.

This class meets the requirements of AB 1825, which requires California employers with 50 or more employees to provide two hours of training to all supervisory employees once every two years.

Heat Illness Prevention

This class covers all aspects of heat illness prevention for supervisors: shade, water, signs, and symptoms of heat illness, worker training, and how to develop an emergency action plan.

Supervisor Leadership

Crew boss or supervisors oversee between 15-40 field workers. The realities of engaging a diverse and ever-evolving workforce provides unique challenges in communication, supervision and leadership. The Commission's unique educational program has trained more than 3,000 employees, providing soft skills development for midlevel farm management workers.

Effective Communications

This 2-day workshop is designed for punchers, crew leaders, ranch managers, human resources and food safety personnel to learn and practice effective communication techniques. Participants will become more aware of their role in facilitating communication, reflect on their own habits, and practice more effective ways to improve performance on the ranch.

  • Average 40 classes per training season.
  • 4,500 participants annually.
  • All workshops use an accelerated learning model, engaging active participation.

Website Banners - AR Advancing Automation

Automation projects to enhance labor efficiency is a key research priority for California strawberry growers. In an era where competition for agricultural labor is fierce, California strawberry growers have prioritized the exploration of automation and mechanization to help improve labor efficiencies.

Through a collaboration with the Cal Poly Strawberry Center, commission staff work with faculty and students on projects to advance mechanization and robotics through all production phases to automate tasks typically done with human labor.



The commission's strategic goal is to act as an innovation accelerator. The major initiatives related to achieving this goal include:

Strawberry Center

Use-case ideas, non-recurring engineering, and research first-looks provided by faculty, staff and students, with Cal Poly SLO as the hub of a network of academic research centers.

Field Research

Research scientists, test plots, and farmer personnel test and evaluate technology for growers and farm advisors in all major production regions.

Advisory Group

Guidance and assessment provided by professionals with expertise in software, hardware, venture capital, and strawberry production.

Technology Training

Grower education specialists support development and deployment of technology training programs.

Industry Engagement

Annual Strawberry Automation Summit and Strawberry Center Field Day provide opportunities to showcase and discuss work done at the Center with industry and affiliated companies.

Funding

Facilitate access to capital through various mechanisms such as a consortium, venture capital group, and/or granting agency.





Automation Summit

The inaugural Strawberry Automation Summit was held in January 2018, with extensive participation by companies focused on automation technology, and industry members, providing insights on the future of strawberry production.






automationsummit

Website Banner - AR Industry Services

The California Strawberry Commission represents more than 300 strawberry farmers, shippers and processors, proudly working together to advance strawberry farming for the future of our land and people. The commission’s groundbreaking programs create opportunities and provide support for California’s strawberry industry by delivering timely services and information crucial to California’s strawberry farmers.


Trade and Market Development

The California Strawberry Commission releases various reports to provide insights on the current and historical status of the strawberry market in the U.S. and trade.


Information Hub

The California Strawberry Commission serves as an information hub for various aspects of the industry, and a unified voice for external audiences such as media, community groups, regulators, elected officials, and the general public.

Regulatory Updates

Timely information on regional, state, federal and international policies and regulations as related to strawberry growers, shippers and processors.

  • See our Regulatory Updates here
Calstrawberry.com

Dynamic, mobile-friendly new platform supporting multiple contributors, dynamic and searchable content.

  • See calstrawberry.com here
Weekly Berry Digest

A weekly compendium of the latest news, events and regulatory updates.


  • See Weekly Berry Digest here
Issues Management

Update resources, such a those for the Thomas Fire in 2017 in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties:


California Strawberry Scholarships

Pride in supporting the families of strawberry field workers to help students realize their own American Dreams.


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