(UPDATED COVERAGE, Feb. 23) As freeze damage to Florida and Georgia blueberry crops becomes clearer, retailers should expect tight supplies for up to a month in late spring.
SunnyRidge FarmCentral and northern Florida blueberry growing regions sustained some damage like this bush but grower-shippers say a mid-February freeze caused more significant damage, exceeding 50%, to Georgia’s early blueberry deal.A freeze the night of Feb 11, will lead to a drop in availablity in late April and the first half of May.
Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., said industry estimates show north Florida and early Georgia crops sustaining up to 50% losses.
“We don’t have a total crop failure in Georgia,” Bocock said Feb. 22. “Though emotions are running high with people making damage guesses, we have a significant failure which will affect a three- to four-week window of Georgia production.
“South Florida won’t have normal volumes the end of March through the first few weeks of April. But when we get to late April, when north Florida and Georgia take the reins, that’s when we’ll see reduction in available fruit for the marketplace.”
Georgia produces two crops. Southern highbush varieties harvest April 25-May 25 with rabbiteye harvesting May 25 to July 4. Bocock said Georgia’s second crop to date didn’t sustain significant damage.
Georgia produced 36 million pounds of fresh blueberries in 2010 and an estimated 39 million bushels in 2011. Florida produced 15 million pounds in 2010 and an estimated 21 million pounds in 2011, according to the Folsom, Calif.-based U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
Second to New Jersey, Georgia represents 13% of U.S. fresh production but remains the big player during the early summer season.
During Feb. 29-March 2 council meetings, the council plans to finalize 2011 season figures and make projections for the 2012 season, said Todd Griffin, assistant manager.
Bocock said retailers will have blueberries to promote, but said price points should be different in late April and early May. He said growers would likely know more about damage over the next three to four weeks.
Offshore berries should fill retail needs until Florida begin in April, a little later than the regions’ usual late March start, said Janice Honigberg, president of Washington, D.C.-based Sun Belle Inc.
“The market will become quite tight during the second half of March,” she said Feb. 22. “Buyers should expect a robust market. Chile will be going strong but will be regularly dodging rain. Supplies will be more limited compared to January when larger growing areas are producing.”
Keith Mixon, president of Dole Berry Co. LLC, Watsonville, Calif. and SunnyRidge Farm, Winter Haven, Fla., said Georgia should produce a significantly smaller crop.
“Right now, it looks pretty desperate. Damage is above 50% but it’s hard to clarify,” Mixon said Feb. 21. “Anything that was out there is pretty much gone. It’s a matter of what’s available to bloom now. Anything that was blooming or had berries is completely gone.”
Mark Greeff, vice president and general manager of the eastern region for Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., agreed damage remains focused on Georgia’s southern highbush crop.
“The word we’re hearing on the (later) rabbiteye crop is that the damage would be minimal,” he said Feb. 21.
Bill Braswell, president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association and president of Polkdale Farms, Auburndale, Fla., reported Florida sustained moderate damage.
“The dew points were very low on the night of Feb. 11 and the winds were so strong that many farmers did not have the water capacity to provide adequate protection,” he said in a late February statement. “Given the fact that the crop was advanced due to the very warm winter conditions, fruit had been set for several weeks. At this time, it appears that approximately 20% of this season’s Florida blueberry crop was lost.”