Watermelon, peaches, blueberries ramp up in Georgia

05/04/2012 01:14:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

Buyers could see Georgia’s blueberry, peach and watermelon deals starting earlier than normal this year.

Early season blueberry production is expected to be significantly lower than normal following February freezes.

Though Feb. 11-12 freezes destroyed an estimated half of Georgia’s early blueberry crop, buyers should expect earlier promotable volume.

Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC’s Grand Junction, Mich., office, said damage was scattered among growers and worse in some fields than others.

The southern highbush crop is running 10-14 days earlier than last year and should bring strong volume May 5-20, Flores said.

Volume typically peaks in late April and early May. Because of the freeze damage this year, however, volume should hit during the second and third weeks of May.

“It would be even worse in terms of availability in early May if the crop wasn’t as early as it is,” Flores said in mid-April.

“Because it’s early, it will give more opportunity for availability of fruit the first half of May. We have a crop that’s declined. But if it was declined on its normal harvest bell curve, so to speak, it has shifted forward,” he said.

“Yes, we’re losing that front end, but since the bell curve is earlier, though reduced, it should still allow for some volume the first half of May.”

The second Georgia blueberry crop, the rabbiteye deal, should start May 23, a little before its normal late May start, said Jerry D’Amore, director of sourcing for Watsonville, Calif.-based Dole Berry Co. LLC’s Winter Haven, Fla., operation.

Flores said the rabbiteye crop should peak May 28 to June 17, earlier than the normal June 7-24 peak.

D’Amore said Dole began light harvesting in its Homerville, Ga., operation April 16 and expected significant volumes to hit April 23.

He said initial reports suggested the rabbiteye remained unaffected from the freeze, but D’Amore said growers now think it should also sustain some damage, though the extent remains uncertain.

“It looks like the remaining fruit is looking good,” D’Amore said in mid-April.

“It appears to be coming out as bigger fruit,” he said.

“As there are fewer berries on the bush, the bushes push what they have. What we are seeing out of Georgia, the fruit that’s there is coming off bigger than normal.”

D’Amore said buyers should expect this season’s smaller volumes to produce firmer prices than last year.


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