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‘Our Early Production Is a Disaster’

An angry Mother Nature is spoiling much of Orange County’s strawberry crop just as the fruit begins to ripen. Flooding has rotted about half the early harvest, but because the total is still undetermined, County Deputy Agriculture Commissioner John Ellis said it is too early to tell whether this year’s record-breaking rainfall will affect prices when the peak strawberry season arrives this spring. Because the rains destroyed only the first of the harvests, Ellis said, growers have time to recover some of their losses.

Irvine grower Hiroshi Fujishige said he depends on early production to cover initial planting expenses. “Our early production is a disaster,” said the 72-year-old grower, who called this his worst season in more than 40 years of farming. But an undaunted George Murai, whose 190-acre strawberry farm in Irvine was spared serious damage, said he feels lucky the storms came early in the year. Although he had to strip half his fields of spoiled fruit, he said the rains only delayed his strawberry season. State agriculture officials are still forecasting a decent season for the fruit. While wholesale strawberry prices usually average about $2 a pint at this time, the fruit is now selling for about 50 cents more per pint. Strawberries bruise easily when pelted by raindrops, and they become overripe and split when fields are too drenched.


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