Heavy rains during the second week of December are putting a dent in Chilean cherry exports to the U.S., but by season’s end, volumes could still set a record.

Rains dampen Chilean cherries, but record still expected

“The damages are varied from zone to zone, but we estimate between 20% to 30% damage in general,” said Julio Ortuzar, vice president of procurement and business development for Fresh Results LLC, Weston, Fla.

Some growers in the cherry-rich Region 7 of Chile were wiped out completely because of the Dec. 11-12 rainfall, Ortuzar said, while others suffered little or no damage.

Markets will likely be affected by the rains, but not until the first or second week of January, he said.

On Dec. 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $30-32 for 5-kilogram cartons of bagged jumbo bing cherries from Chile, down from $36-38 last year at the same time. Cartons of extra-large bings were $28-30, down from $34-36.

Because of the rains, the 2010-11 crop will likely be 15% to 25% smaller than originally estimated, said Juan Pablo Vicuna, president of Santiago-based Dole Chile SA.

That said, through mid-December Chile had shipped about 6 million 5-kilogram boxes of cherries, Vicuna said, and by the time shipments end in the first half of January, the total will still range from 9.5 million to 10.5-million.

That would top the 8.7 million-box total of 2007-08, Vicuna said.

“We still expect this to be a record cherry crop,” he said.

Because of the rains, the Chilean cherry crop is expected to be about 16% smaller than first expected, according to a report from Santiago-based SimFruit, a market analysis joint venture of the Santiago-based organizations ASOEX and Fedefruta.

Production expected to drop from the early season estimate of 53,400 tons to 48,129 tons, according to the report. Still, assuming that no additional weather events affect production, exports to all countries are projected to climb 44% from 2009-10.