Chilean fresh produce exports are expected down 50 million boxes this season due to September freezes.
Chilean fresh produce exports are expected down 50 million boxes this season due to September freezes.

Grower-shippers of Chilean fruit expect severe September freezes to diminish the South American country’s exports by about 50 million boxes in 2013-14.

What no one knows yet is by how much specific commodities will be limited and how North American supplies will be affected.

“Volumes may be down by 30% or more for the fresh markets, depending on the commodities, growers and regions their farms are located,” said Craig Uchizono, vice president of the Southern Hemisphere for Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos.

“The full extent of the damage to the trees will become clearer during harvest,” he said.

Uchizono said Nov. 4 he expects a five- to 10-day delay to the start of season.

He also said, in addition to the freezes, drought is compromising some crops in the northern region of Chile.

Doug Grant, vice president and chief information officer for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, estimated his company’s growers lost 30% of their volume to the freezes.

“The impact varies greatly by item,” Grant said. “While some valleys were spared completely, others had frost in the higher elevations and others lower.”

Grant said damages also varied by stage of blossom, variety and region. He said Oppenheimer growers lost an estimated 60% of their kiwifruit and up to 15% of their grapes. Stone fruit losses ranged from 30% to 70%.

Most of the country’s citrus crop already had been harvested and was unaffected, he said.

Evan Myers, director of imports for The Oppenheimer Group, said cherry volumes could be reduced up to 30%.

Chile is still expected to produce a net increase in that commodity because of expanding acreage.

Setbacks, but solid volumes

“Despite these setbacks, Oppenheimer plans to market solid volumes next season with increased acreage from new and existing Oppenheimer growers,” Grant said.

Despite decreased overall volume, grower-shippers are optimistic U.S. buyers won’t have less Chilean fruit to choose from.

Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, said the U.S. market is a priority for Chilean blueberry shippers because the U.S. “can consume the vast majority of Chilean blueberry production at profitable price levels.”

Although early blueberry varieties were diminished by adverse weather, Flores said volume should ramp up by late November.

He said quality has been excellent.

Vice president of sales and marketing Paul Newstead said grapes, stone fruit, kiwifruit and cherries were the items hardest hit for Nathel International.

The cherry and kiwifruit losses were “catastrophic,” for the Pittsgrove, N.J., company, he said.

Newstead said there was no assessment yet on Chile’s pear and apple crops, which come later in growing cycle. He noted, however, that early varieties of those commodities were in bloom when the freezes hit.

Newstead said the knee-jerk reaction might be to assume that U.S. markets will receive less fruit this season, but he said the opposite could be true.

“We could get more fruit than normal if Chile can’t ship it elsewhere,” he said.

“Last year, Chilean grapes had some condition issues. We thought we would get less fruit, but we ended up getting more than expected because it couldn’t be sent to some other parts of the world,” he said. 

Opportunities for Peru

Nathel imports grapes from Chile and Peru, and Newstead said if Chile does have supply issues, it may create an opportunity for Peruvian shippers.

“You don’t want to see anything bad happen to Chile,” he said. “It’s important to us, but conditions indicate that Peru is going to be important to retailers and wholesalers.

“As people transition from California to imports, it’s going to make more sense this year. Every year, quality is getting better with varieties they are planting and the job they are doing.”

Newstead said Peruvian grapes already have been harvested, but importers are waiting for California’s crop to wind down before bringing them into the U.S..

Bil Goldfield, communications manager for Dole Fresh Fruit, Westlake Village, Calif., said the company didn’t expect “a major effect in our overall volumes” of Chilean grapes.

He said quality and condition should have more of an effect on price than volume.

“The fruit being sent to the U.S. needs to be good in order to get good results,” he said. “It is obvious to anyone in this industry what happens when fruit arrives with quality issues. Customers in the U.S. do not want to handle poor quality and condition, and growers know this. I expect the arrival of Chilean fruit to be good for this reason.”

Grant, however, said prices should be favorable for Chilean fruit due to reduced volumes and increased demand from other markets, especially Asia.

Grant said market demand for Chilean grapes will depend initially on how long supplies from California last.

He also said Nov. 1 that California crimsons weren’t coloring up yet due to high temperatures earlier in the growing season, and that could affect how that crop fares at retail.

“We’ve seen record sales volumes during September and October,” he said of California grapes. “There is a lot of fruit in storage, but that product should move well over the next few weeks.”

The USDA reported Nov. 13 that 19-pound containers of bagged, large and extra-large crimson seedless grapes from California were $18.55. Large and extra-large red globes were $16.55-18.55, and extra-large autumn kings were $22.55.

Grant said volume for Brazilian grapes is down significantly from past seasons, and growers in Chile are being offered high program prices on items such as grapes and stone fruit by retailers who want to be assured of volume.

“We think Chile grape volume will hit a good early market,” he said. “While we hope for stable prices through the next few months, I think we’ll see a lot of price volatility through January.”