SACRAMENTO, Calif. — It’s all hands-on deck at the Saechao family run berry stand at the farmers’ market in Sacramento.

As tasty as all the berries are, Nai and his 11-year-old son Channing say it’s the strawberries that steal the show.

What You Need To Know

  • A soil borne disease has been threatening to wipe out California's strawberry crop

  • Strawberries bring in over $3 billion to the state's economy

  • Around 88% of strawberries grown in the U.S., grow in California

  • Researchers have created five new varieties resistant to the deadly fusarium wilt

“Strawberries are a main draw to the market,” Saechao said. “People tend to come out to buy strawberries and if you see the other berries, they get into it.”

Seachao said since strawberries make up most of their business, the variety of strawberry matters.

There are hundreds of different strawberry varieties. Saechao said they grow three types because of their hardiness, color and texture.

“Texture plays a large roll,” Saechao said. “Our Chandler and Camarosa, so it’s got a little softer texture versus our Albion, Firmer Texture. Sometimes it kind of bites in like an apple.”

Hardiness is not just important to growers like Saechao, but also the state because strawberries are California’s third highest grossing crop.

They brought in over $3 billion in 2021.

The red berries are susceptible to soil-borne disease with one in particular that has become more prevalent, fusarium wilt.

The disease has been causing major concern and prompted UC Davis researchers like Steve Knapp to conduct a worldwide search for even hardier varieties.

“That showed up around 2005-06 in our state,” said Director of UC Davis Strawberry Breeding Program, Steve Knapp. “And has become increasingly problematic. It could wipe out production in California.”

Knapp said over 85% of strawberries grown in the U.S. come from California and says a huge amount of those berries are all susceptible to the deadly disease.

Knapp and his team have created a strawberry killing field where they have purposely released the fusarium wilt into, along with different strawberry varieties, to find “super strawberries” that are immune to the disease.

Thankfully for the industry, they have come up trumps in more than one way.

“The new cultivars carry this resistant gene, so we know we offer that to growers,” Knapp said. “They also produce yields that are highly competitive with what’s out there today and we’ve also worked on some improved flavors.”

The five new varieties released by UC Davis have begun a slow rollout.

Having hardier strawberries that will sell is a good thing Saechao said.

He wants his son Channing to continue the family business, if he chooses to.

“So if education doesn’t fall through, he can fall back on the berries and kind of work on that,” he said. 

Saechao said it’s a “berry” enticing business he hopes will continue long into the future.