Watsonville Berry Cooperative to close

A forklift operator loads pallets of freshly picked strawberries onto a roller system to start the cooling process at the Berry Bowl in Pajaro. (File photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

Formed 64 years ago, last of its kind in state

PAJARO — Watsonville Berry Cooperative, a group of farmers also known as the Berry Bowl, is ending operations at the end of this year after struggling for years, General Manager Tom Simmons said Wednesday.

According to Simmons, the 64-year-old organization is the last strawberry cooperative in the state of California.

Simmons attributed the impending closure to a declining market and a “tremendous overproduction” of berries by farmers, who have increased their productive capabilities even as they reduced their acreage.

At the same time, the farmers are burdened by ever-increasing costs, Simmons said. 

“Everyone in the industry has known it was going to get tougher as time went on,” he said. “Some people were prepared and some weren’t.”

A group of 66 berry farmers formed the cooperative in 1954 with the belief they could better market their own crops. At its height, the organization boasted 230 acres.

Now, 12 farmers grow strawberries, raspberries and blackberries for the co-op on about 25 acres, Simmons said.

The group ships its products all over the U.S.

For 30 years the farmers stored their berries in Marinovich cold storage, but moved to Watsonville Berry Cooler in 1984.

That cooler company will stay in business and has plans to take on new farmers, said Simmons, who also serves as plant manager.

Of the 12 farmers that belong to the cooperative, eight plan to retire, Simmons said. He declined to name the farmers.

“It’s just been a struggle for everyone,” Simmons said. “A lot of them are sad it’s coming to an end, but at the same time I think they are glad they will be out of it because their stress levels will be much lower.”


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