(March 13, 10 a.m.) Pineapple imports were a fraction of their normal volume the first week of March, signaling a possible rise in prices as Easter demand spikes, some importers said.

Others, however, said availability, quality and markets would not likely be affected.

Rains in Costa Rica and cold throughout Central America caused the huge volume dropoff in the first week of March, importers said. Several sources said a large load of Costa Rican fruit arriving at a Texas port in late February was rejected, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture disputes that.

About 5.7 million pounds of pineapples were imported the first week of March, down from 22.5 million pounds last year at the same time, according to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

The majority of pineapples at this time of year come from Costa Rica. About 3.2 million pounds came from Costa Rica the first week of March, down from 15.9 millions pounds last year.

Rains have pelted Costa Rica since December, with skies only starting to clear in the first week of March, importers said.

Sources said between 20 and 30 containers of pineapples were rejected in late February or early March at Port Freeport in Texas because of a pest or weed finding.

But Melissa O’Dell, public affairs specialist for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the USDA could not confirm that story.

“Based on the information we have, there were no shipments of pineapple from Costa Rica at the port of Freeport, Texas, in the past 20 days,” she said March 12. “There was, however, one container of pineapple from Panama which arrived at Freeport, Texas, on March 9. Two federal noxious weeds were found with the shipment.”

The volume drop had been felt in markets the week of March 9 and would likely continue to be felt, said Alan Dolezal, vice president of sales for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Turbana Corp.

“We saw a spike this week, a $1-1.50 increase, and it could go up another couple of dollars (leading up to Easter),” Dolezal said. “I wouldn’t put it in the critical stage, but I think it will be much tighter.”

On March 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $12-13 for one-layer cartons of golden ripe pineapples 5s from Costa Rica sold on the Miami terminal market — a $3 increase from the previous week.

Bil Goldfield, communications manager for Dole Food Co. Inc., Westlake Village, Calif., traced the shortages to cold weather in Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala.

“Market demand for pineapples is currently high, and supplies have tightened up,” he said. “There is a strong market on large sizes particularly, and we expect this strong market to remain through Easter.”

Not all importers, however, thought the volume decline in early March would affect markets.

“You would think it would affect the market more, but it hasn’t,” said Ken Nabal, vice president of sales and logistics for Edinburg, Texas-based Frontera Produce Ltd.

Quality, sizing and volume issues for Rosemont Farms Corp., Boca Raton, Fla., cleared up at the end of February, said Roc Baggett, senior category executive for pineapples.

“We’ve come through on the other side of it, and right now we’re not really having supply issues,” he said.

Del Monte Fresh Produce NA, Coral Gables, Fla., reported no quality issues or shortages heading into Easter, said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing.

Year-to-date pineapple shipments are not significantly lower than last year. About 250 million pounds had been imported through March 11, down from 258 million last year at the same time.