The blueberry varieties Argentinean producers choose to grow can have a significant effect on their industry.
The size, flavor and quality of the fruit matters, but equally important are when the plants come on and how much fruit they produce.
The latest trend is toward early varieties with longer shelf life, said Ines Pelaez, manager of the Argentinean Blueberry Committee, Buenos Aires.
“Growers are exchanging varieties so they can start earlier,” she said.
Toward the end of the season, they’re competing with growers in Chile, which means there’s increased volume in the pipeline and lower prices.
Early in the season, volume is minimal, so prices are higher for Argentinean product, she said.
Early berries can bring in “decent prices, longer,” Pelaez said.
Naturipe Farms LLC, Estero, Fla., was one of the first companies to change its production practices, said Jim Roberts, vice president of sales.
“We’re already getting production off earlier with varieties like snowchaser and primadonna,” he said.
Those berries not only come off in early September and October, but they also provide good yields, he said.
Naturipe now produces blueberries that hit the right window with the right yields as opposed to older varieties that came on too late and were starting to compete with Chilean fruit or were not high-yielding varieties, Roberts said.
Earliness is just one consideration.
Argentinean growers constantly are trying new varieties for higher yields, longer shelf life and better flavor, said Mike Parr, president of Team Produce International, Miami.
“You want good yields, shelf life, and you want to make sure the flavor and sizing are consistent with what the market wants,” he said.
Having a variety that produces early fruit doesn’t guarantee good returns, said Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations for Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla.
“Everybody wants to be early,” he said.
Growers want to kick off their season the second week of September, but if their counterparts still are shipping from Michigan and British Columbia, it will be cost prohibitive to launch an Argentina deal because of the expense of flying the berries to the U.S., he said.
Some growers hope to boost their returns by planting varieties that come on later in the season but before Chilean fruit starts shipping.
Wish Farms does not tell its growers what varieties to plant or when to plant them, Koukoulis said.
“We feel the grower knows his farm better than we do in Plant City,” he said.
Argentina has suffered some grower fallout because of “disparities” over the past few years, said Mike Bowe, vice president at Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc., Coral Springs, Fla.
Enticed by strong demand for blueberries, some investors planted berries and hoped to reap huge returns, he said.
“But they were investors, not growers, and didn’t have the skills or the drive of other growers,” he said.
Consequently, they planted varieties that did that did not produce well in Argentina, and some of them quickly bailed out of the deal.
Those who survived are reevaluating their varieties, and many already have put in high-yielding plants, but it will take a few years before they reach full production, Bowe said.
Thanks to new, higher-yielding varieties, the blueberry industry continues to grow in Argentina, even though actual acreage is down, he said.