PLANT CITY, Fla. — Buyers should expect smaller Florida blueberry volume after a mid-February freeze that growers say may reduce supplies of the season’s first domestic blueberries.
The state’s strawberries, on the other hand, may peak earlier.
Freezing temperatures that struck Florida growing regions Feb. 11 should reduce season volume, growers say.
In a late February report, Bill Braswell, president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association and of Auburndale-based Polkdale Farms, said most of the damage was north of Interstate 4 and became progressively worse going north.
He estimated the freeze damaged 20% of the season’s blueberry crop.
Mark Greeff, vice president and general manager of the Eastern region for Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., said even before the freeze, Florida’s crop appeared lighter than last season’s.
“It won’t have as solid a peak, but maybe a more gradual peak with slightly lower volumes on some of the varieties,” he said in late February. “Expectations are a little lighter. The bud set doesn’t look as significant as it did a year ago.”
Aside from the freeze, Florida looks to produce a strong crop, said Keith Mixon, president of Dole Berry Co. LLC, Watsonville, Calif., and SunnyRidge Farm, Winter Haven.
“This year, we have more acres coming in, which is why we are expecting the same volume as last year’s,” he said. “It’s less than last year’s but a larger crop in the end because of the extra acreage.”
Mixon estimates growers planted up to 400 additional acres.
Florida’s blueberry crop typically begins light harvesting in mid- to late March in southern producing regions before the harvest begins in late March and early April in central Florida. North Florida production usually commences in mid-April.
South Florida typically finishes production May 1 and central Florida on May 7, followed by north Florida ending May 14. All Florida volume usually wraps up by May 20 before Georgia’s second crop, its rabbit eye variety, begins in late May. Georgia’s first crop, the southern highbush varieties, typically begin in late April.
Mid-March should bring heavy Florida strawberry production.
Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Wish Farms, said he expects peak production weeks ahead of the season’s normal mid- to late March peak.
“Our forecast models predict the industry to have record production by the first week of March,” Wishnatzki said in late February. “This will be the most berries per-week the industry has ever seen. It’s unusual to peak that early. It may continue to build through the month.”
Aside from the expected production boom, Wishnatzki called the berry season, which begins in late November and finishes by mid-April, strong. He said production exceeded expectations and that a warmer-than-usual growing season helped berry growth and quality.
Late season prices, however, weren’t strong. In late February, Wishnatzki quoted $8.95-10.95 for flats of eight 1-pound clamshells.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on Feb. 28 f.o.b.s of $7.90-8.90 for flats of 8 1-pound clamshells medium large from central Florida.
At the same time last year, flats of 8 1-pound clamshells medium large sold for $10.90-12.90.
Driscoll’s Greeff characterized the season as strong.
“We have had a solid strawberry deal so far this year in Florida,” he said in late February.
“We’re banking on weather remaining fairly consistent over the next six weeks and not getting excessively hot. This is definitely one of the better seasons we have had in a number of years.”