Strawberries in Charts: Expected California shortage, why aren't last two months of high prices a model?

March 05 , 2019

In this ‘In Charts‘ series of mini-articles, Colin Fain of data visualization tool Agronometrics illustrates how the U.S. market is evolving. In each series, he will look at a different fruit commodity, focusing on a different origin or topic in each installment to see what factors are driving change.

As we in the Northern Hemisphere come out of the winter months and spring starts to creep into our lives, strawberry volumes are beginning to hit the market as the season ramps up.

On the heels of particularly high prices over the last couple of months, this supply rise has been most notable from Florida and has sharply brought prices down over the last two weeks. In light of this dramatic scene, I want to look at what the market data can explain about the high prices we just saw and what that might have to say about the upcoming California season.

Strawberries, Non-Organic, Prices and Volumes

(Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics)

[Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here]

Deficits from Southern California and Florida have resulted in this season's volumes being consistently lower than last - right up until Florida recently started sending good amounts of fruit which match up very closely with the fall in price.

Strawberry, Non-Organic, Volumes

(Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics)

[Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here]

We can see that prices this season are matching up pretty well with the trend, rising above last year's levels somewhat proportionally to the difference in volumes between last season and this season. 

Strawberry, Non-Organic, Prices per Kilo

(Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics)

[Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here]

Going forward everything will depend on how California's season comes along. Last year both the South and Central producing areas came on late, with the bulk of their volume concentrated later than usual and monstrous volumes hitting the market from weeks 18 to 25. According to a research paper published by RaboBank, Price Signals at Work in the Strawberry Market - Outlook 2019, the low prices fell below break-even levels, contributing to a drop in planted acreage, “which is currently estimated to be at its lowest level in over a decade.” If we compare Central California's volumes last year to 2010 that would represent a 36% reduction in volume, meaning that prices would definitely increase, by how much is a much more complicated question.

Theory says that for a perfect commodity, a percentage change in price is inversely proportional to the same percentage change in volume. In my experience, strawberries abide by this theory within their respective periods of commercialization. The rule isn’t perfect when we look at this data, because of inventories and other commercialization channels that aren’t spot market, but in general it is a good indicator of what’s going on.

This also means that when volumes are low, a small change in volume can represent a large percentage, and we see that in the prices. Likewise, when volumes are high, even big changes of millions of kilos might not represent that much of a percentage, which is then reflected in pricing. With a third of the volume out of the market, that represents a substantial increase. But everything is relative, so if the California season comes in 36% under last year’s volume, keep in mind that a 36% increase on last year's price for week 24 - the lowest price of the year - was $7.82. The difference is the massive volumes being moved.

Strawberry, Non-Organic, Volumes from Central California

 

(Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics)

[Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here]


As a useful tool for readers to gauge how the markets are currently evolving, we offer weekly pricing by fruit size.

Strawberries, Non-Organic, Prices by Size

(Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics)

[Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here]

 

Strawberries, Non-Organic, Prices by Size (Week 9)

Sizes Price Reported
Average $11.03
sml-med $9.60
med $11.75

In our ‘In Charts’ series, we work to tell some of the stories that are moving the industry. Feel free to take a look at the other articles by clicking here.

You can keep track of the markets daily through Agronometrics, a data visualization tool built to help the industry make sense of the huge amounts of data that professionals need to access to make informed decisions. If you found the information and the charts from this article useful, feel free to visit us at www.agronometrics.com where you can easily access these same graphs, or explore the other 23 fruits we currently track.

This analysis made based on the available data public data from the USDA and is not the complete story. Although the USDA does a pretty good job reporting on volumes, the prices they provide only represent the spot market for fruit at shipping point or port of entry. This means that it is only a percentage of what’s going on is reflected in these charts. What's more, the prices are volunteered, so if shippers and receivers choose not to share them, they simply don’t exist. This said, the USDA’s data is far an away the best and most accurate window into how the markets are developing that is publicly available and holds very valuable insights for those of us who know how to make use of it.

 

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