The Chilean blueberry harvest typically starts in early December, with the first significant arrivals in the U.S. and Canada just after Christmas, said Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sonoma, Calif.
This season, however, optimal growing conditions in early harvest areas has growers believing harvest could be 10 days early, Tjerandsen said.
That said, it’s still early in the game to make too many predictions, Tjerandsen cautioned.
“There’s still a lot of time between now and then, and Mother Nature has been known to step in with considerable change resulting from those weather events,” he said.
In spite of the early start, Chilean importers think volumes will peak on time, in late January and early February, Tjerandsen said.
Nolan Quinn, berry category director for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, said industrywide numbers should be similar to last season.
Oppenheimer, however, expects to increase its Chilean imports through a combination of adding new growers and sourcing more berries from existing growers, Quinn said.
In mid-September, the Northern Chile deal was running a week or two ahead of schedule, Quinn said. The growing season in the north has been very dry, with 40% less precipitation than normal.
As a result, volumes will be down, though quality should be unaffected, Quinn said. Some product should begin arriving in the U.S. from northern Chile by air in mid-November. Container shipments should follow in late November or early December, he said.
In central Chile, meanwhile, new plantings are starting to mature, making it likely that volumes will be up from the region for Oppenheimer, Quinn said.
And in the late season, southern Chilean deal,volumes also are expected to be up, he said.
In addition to an increase in its overall Chilean blueberry program in 2012-13, Oppenheimer expects a boost in organic offerings, Quinn said.
“We’re getting into it — we haven’t done much in Chile,” he said. “We think the demand’s there. The major retailers are carrying both (conventional and organic).”
Andres Armstrong, general manager of the Chilean Blueberry Committee, Santiago, said Mother Nature has been kind to growers this year, promising high-quality fruit.
“(There have been) only light rains and no frost at all,” he said. “We anticipate high quality and healthy product this season.”
Brian Bocock, vice president of product management in the Grand Junction, Mich., office of Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, said he expected Chilean shipments to begin arriving in mid-October, with volume shipments slated for the first week of December.