Growers and importers think revised fumigation requirements for Argentina blueberries will result in a higher-quality product on U.S. supermarket shelves.
Until June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service required blueberries to be treated with methyl bromide at 70 degrees for 3.5 hours to mitigate risk from Mediterranean and South American fruit flies.
Argentina requested in 2009 that APHIS revise its treatment schedule, saying the 70-degree requirement “presented an undue economic hardship for the exporters.”
Argentina asked APHIS to change the temperature requirement to 59 degrees and above. The request was accompanied by supporting data.
“After reviewing the data provided, APHIS found the results to be acceptable with a slight modification of temperature,” according to an announcement issued in June.
APHIS changed the temperature requirement to 60 degrees.
The new standard became effective when the notice was published but is subject to change after a review of public comments.
The comment period ended Aug. 19.
“This is very good because it will improve the quality of our fruit,” said Ines Pelaez, manager of the Buenos Aires-based Argentinean Blueberry Committee.
The revised temperature standard will improve the shelf life of Argentina’s blueberries, she said.
“We are very happy about that.”
“This was very well-received by everybody,” said Nelly Yunta, vice president of sales, marketing and customer care for Customized Brokers, a division of Miami-based CrowleyFresh.
The industry had been working with USDA and APHIS for two years in an attempt to get the temperature standard revised, she said.
The change is important because even if the fruit’s temperature is lowered after being subjected to the 70-degree treatment, the berries already have been affected.
Importers were hoping to see the change last season, she added.
As a result of the new requirement, the quality and condition of the fruit should be better on arrival in the U.S., and that should increase shelf life and demand, she said.
Other U.S. importers were equally supportive.
“It means you can take some of the field heat out of the fruit,” said Jim Roberts, vice president of sales for Naturipe Farms LLC, Estero, Fla.
Berries typically come in from the field at temperatures that range from 80 to 90 degrees, he said. The sooner the grower can get the fruit down to 32 degrees, the better the quality and shelf life will be for retailers and consumers.
“To be able to take that (temperature) down initially and immediately start the ripening process, then go through fumigation before you bring it all the way down, should have a positive impact,” he said.
The new regulations should have a favorable effect on Argentina’s blueberry deal, said Tom Richardson, vice president of global development for Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos.
The fumigation process now will be less stressful on the fruit while still controlling the pests, he said.
“It will give Argentina product better shelf life, provide a better eating experience for consumers and lead to repeat purchases,” he said.