DOVER, Fla. – The Winter strawberry season is underway in Florida, where the Sunshine State’s climate is just right for the berries to continue growing when most other states pause during the colder months.
The market at Parkesdale Farms in Dover, Florida, was busy this week as customers stopped by for winter strawberries.
Neighboring Plant City hosts the Strawberry Festival annually in March. Next year will mark the 87th anniversary of the 11-day event.
The area 30 minutes east of Tampa is known as the "Winter Strawberry Capital."
California produces 90% of the nation’s strawberries, but when California slows production, and other strawberry-producing states are too cold, Florida keeps going producing 8% of the berries.
"It's not too cold, and it's not too hot because if it was hot, these berries, the quality of these berries would not be good at all. It needs to be a cool, steady, cool weather event," Matt Parke, director of operations at Parkesdale Farms, said.
According to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, there are approximately 8,000 acres of strawberries grown in Florida, second only to California.
Parkesdale Farms grow the traditional red berry, and a new lighter variety called the pineberry. The pink-and-white pineberries are a combination of pineapple and strawberry.
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Both varieties are weather-dependent.
"Weather is the very first thing I look at when I wake up and the very last thing I look at before I go to sleep at night," Parke said.
Too much rain can be damaging for strawberries. The excess moisture can also cause mold to grow on the fruit before its harvested, meaning unmarketable berries.
"Rain is not a great thing for our strawberries," Parke said.
Strawberry farmers closely watch the heat index to determine when to pick berries.
"If we're going to have a heat spike in the coming couple of days … that will increase the number of berries that we're going to pick because they're ripening faster," Parke said.
Whereas cold does the reverse, slowing down the berries from ripening.
"If we're going to have some really cold weather … it's going to slow our berries down, you know, we're not going to pick as many, but they're going to be quality," Parke said.
Last year Florida sold nearly $240 million in strawberries. California brought in close to $2 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Florida's strawberry season runs until mid-April.