Blueberry importers and shippers report strong demand as Chile yields to domestic deals.

Mike Bowe, vice president of Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc., Coral Springs, Fla., expected a smooth transition from Chile to Florida, as the domestic deal should have a fairly clear pipeline at the start of the season.

“Chile is winding up pretty quickly,” Bowe said March 10. “Normally they go through March. This year will end a little sooner.”

Limited volumes at the end of the Chilean deal should mean very tight markets through March, said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.

On March 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $26-28 for flats of 12 1-pint cups of medium and large blueberries from Chile, up from $20 last year at the same time.

Freezes early in the year and heat late made it a challenging year for Chilean shippers, Bowe said. Quality was compromised as a result.

“Anything that could go wrong for Chile, did,” he said.

Florida blueberries were shipping in very light quantities by the week of March 10, with volumes expected by the second half of the month, Bowe said.

The Florida deal should run smoothly, with few if any peaks expected, Bowe said. Georgia, on the other hand, is expected to start slow then build to a big peak in the third or fourth week of April, he said.

The Florida and Georgia deals both will get off to slightly late starts, and freezes were still a possibility, said Bocock. In Georgia, for instance, temperatures as low as 32 were forecast for late the week of March 10.

But once they get going, assuming there’s no late freeze damage, Naturipe expects ample production from both regions.

“We expect good, strong crops from Florida and Georgia.”

Naturipe expects its California volumes to pick up in April with big volumes set for May. The company also expected to source Mexican blueberries in volume through about mid-April.

Following Georgia for Dave’s Specialty Imports is North Carolina, whose volumes will likely be affected by abnormally cold growing weather, Bowe said. But because production was expected to increase in North Carolina before the season began, 2014 volumes may not wind up being much different than 2013 volumes.