Argentina’s mild winter provided ideal temperatures for the blueberry crop, shippers say, and the favorable conditions have set the crop about two weeks early.
“We started picking July 12, which is extremely early, because of the weather conditions and some new variety selections,” said Jim Roberts, vice president of sales for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla.
Roberts said most of the earliest berries are going to Europe because the U.S. still has a fairly steady supply.
The typical season for Argentina begins the last week in September, but this year supplies are expected to reach the U.S. around Sept. 10.
“This will actually work out better for them because the domestic crop was earlier pretty much across the board,” Roberts said.
He expects a smooth transition for Argentina in U.S. retail markets.
“If you could draw it up, this is how you would have it because they’ll finish before Chile really starts,” he said.
Tom Richardson, general manager of The Giumarra Cos., Wenatchee, Wash., agreed.
“This particular year, this should suit the marketplace well because Michigan is finishing early,” he said. “It’s one of those years when it’s not creating the challenge of an overlapping season.”
Growers and shippers expect similar volumes to last year, though each production region has some slight changes.
“Looking at the Tucuman area, we believe it to have a slight increase in volume, maybe 10%,” said Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations for Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla.
“But we’re hearing the Concordia area is probably decreasing by about 10%, so we think volume will be about what it was last year,” he said.
Richardson said stronger volume should hit the U.S. around mid-October, when both regions are in production.
“The early start is always lighter volume and then by Oct. 1, we’ll have the overlap and that will give us the start of steady volume,” said Eric Crawford, president of Fresh Results LLC, Sunrise, Fla.
Quality looks to be good this year as well, thanks to the good weather.
“So far we’ve had a good growing season, and we expect a good crop,” Koukoulis said.
Inés Peláez, general manager at the Argentinean Blueberry Committee, said weather could still cause problems.
“The season is going good, but at this moment growers need to be careful with frost,” she said.
Nader Musleh, general manager for California Giant, Watsonville, also doesn’t want to rule out the possibility of bad weather this season.
“Of course, weather could dictate ultimate volume, and the first half of August began with rain in the two important valleys, Concordia and Tucuman, but we did have mild temperatures this winter, which resulted in the good fruit development,” he said.