Over the next several weeks, 600 California farmers will plant 31,000 acres of strawberries. That includes 12,000 acres in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties alone.
Just 1,200 to 1,500 acres will be grown without chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Although that's not an insignificant amount, it is fewer than expected as demand for organic produce grows steadily and scientists probe ever further into the environmental and health benefits of organic agriculture.
Why the disconnect? The supply of organic strawberries, like that of other crops, responds to demand.
"Basically, what we do is deliver what the consumer is demanding," said Tom Jones, chairman of the California Strawberry Commission from 2006 to 2008. "If the consumer demands more organically grown fruit, the industry will deliver."
Jones grows both conventional and organic strawberries on 110 acres he leases near Salinas and Castroville (Monterey County). He manages about 25 percent of his acres organically, an allocation that varies according to how much organic land is available and what his buyer, California Giant Berry Farms, can sell.
"California Giant will come to us and say, 'Here's where the market is, here's what we've achieved up to now; we believe there's the potential for X amount of growth in the marketplace,' " Jones said.