UPDATED: Later Florida blueberry deal sees higher prices

04/27/2010 05:00:26 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

(UPDATED COVERAGE 10:36 a.m. April 29)  A later than normal Florida blueberry deal is bringing smaller production, slow harvesting and high prices, but it comes as Georgia and California are expected to produce record crops.

Retailers should expect large volumes for Memorial Day and summertime promotions, shippers say.

“Memorial Day promotions from the East Coast will be huge between Georgia’s southern highbush and North Carolina, and this will be one of the best years for lining up Memorial Day ad pulls,” said Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC’s Grand Junction, Mich., office.

“You will also see the peak of production lining up with prime promotional opportunities for blueberries on the West Coast,” Flores said. “It will be a real winner for retailers to go out with some good promotions on both coasts.”

Florida growers in late April had harvested only about 10% of their crop, compared to nearly 70% harvest completion at the same time in 2009, said Keith Mixon, president and chief executive officer of SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla.


Courtesy SunnyRidge

A later than normal Florida blueberry deal is bringing smaller production, slow harvesting and high price


During the third week of April, growers had picked only 1% of the crop, which helped keep prices higher than normal during the usual transition from Chilean imports via boat to the start of Florida’s fresh deal, he said.

According to industry estimates, Florida is expected to ship 16 million pounds of blueberries, up from last season’s 13 million pounds. All of Florida’s production ships to fresh channels,

Harvest began in southern growing regions including Zolfo Springs, Fla., in mid-April, 18 days later than the normal late March, he said.

“The fruit looks incredible, and it’s a great crop that’s just late,” Mixon said April 27. “In the 17 years we have been doing this, this is the latest we have ever started.”

Flores said Florida production started to ramp up in late April and is expected to peak in early to mid-May.

The deal should finish by May 28, a few days later than normal, Flores said in late April.

Though Florida’s cool spring slowed development, the cold has produced many chill hours, helping the plants, Flores said.
    
Georgia outlook
He said buyers should expect an overlap with Georgia, which normally hits the market in late April/early May. Peak production hits after May 17, Flores said.

Georgia, whose season normally runs through early July, is forecast to ship 55 million-60 million total pounds this year, up from 39 million pounds last season.

Last year, 56% of Georgia’s blueberries, 22 million pounds, went to the fresh market, comparable to other years.

Though shippers earlier in the season had reported prices exceeding $30 for flats of 12 4.4-ounce cups with lids, prices in late April began falling as more volume hit the market.

On April 27, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported flats of 12 4.4-ounce cups with lids medium-large selling for $26-28 with occasional higher previous commitments. Last year in mid-April, flats were $22, falling in late April to $16.50-18.

In California, harvest is expect to begin in mid-May, and early estimates call for a significant increase in production, up to 35 million pounds, compared to 23 million pounds last season. California’s entire crop goes to the fresh market, but Flores said production estimates could drop 10%

Michigan, which begins harvest in July, should produce similar volume as last year, Flores said.

According to industry numbers, the state picked 100 million pounds, of which about half went to the fresh market.



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