Coronavirus: California's strawberry industry could see a 30% revenue loss as demand plummets

Officials say the uncertain period for the industry rests on whether shoppers continue to purchase the product at grocery stores.
California produces 88 percent of the country's strawberries, but the industry is facing economic uncertainty with restaurants closed and shoppers more interested in products that last longer, such as canned goods.

"We're hitting this major peak of coronavirus about the same time that we start to hit our peak of production that we could see up to a 30% loss within that six week period," said Carolyn O'Donnell with the California Strawberry Commission.

O'Donnell says 15% of the strawberries grown in California are purchased by the food service industry. There's roughly 400 strawberry farms in the state with a workforce in the fields of up to 40,000 people, since strawberries have to be hand picked.

O'Donnell says this uncertain period for the industry rests on whether shoppers continue to purchase the product at grocery stores.

"Once they've gotten to the markets they've probably been off the plant about three, four, five days depending on how far away they had to travel and then they're maybe good for another week as long as they stay cold," she said.

One option to help the industry would be the USDA's Defense Production Act, which would allow for the purchase of the excess berries - to be donated to food banks.

Strawberry pickers in growing fields in places like Monterey, California have been seen working while practicing physical distancing. With demand continuing to drop, their jobs could also be in jeopardy if action isn't taken.
Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.