“Last season was very poor for growers,” she said. “Prices dipped below cost of production There were quite a few growers that couldn’t continue.”
Honigberg said despite some growers leaving the marketplace or declining to harvest this year, volumes should be similar to last year.
“The overall tonnage should be about the same,” she said. “If there is a freeze, that can be reduced. If the growers understand that the pricing will become untenable for them, they will stop shipping, go frozen or stop fresh.”
The mix of reports from Argentine suppliers is largely a result of a shakeup of producers after last year’s freeze losses and unsustainable pricing for growers.
“I don’t think there are new crops coming in, but crops are becoming mature,” said Marcelo Estrada, a freelance produce marketer based in Miami. “Based on that situation, it is expected that the farms will produce more fruit, but not all the growers are harvesting.”
Estrada pointed out that this year the main difference is improved weather.
Bruce Turner, head of operations for Giumarra VBM International Berry LLC, Wanatchee, Wash., agreed chilly July weather and a slight frost in September pushed back the crop a bit, but he is still counting on good quality and high volume.
Joe Barsi, director of business development at California Giant Inc., Watsonville, cautions that weather in Argentine is unpredictable and frosts have already caused some losses this year.
“The Buenos Aires and Tucuman regions have suffered several frosts this season and this has impacted the volumes on the early varieties and the higher valued fruit,” he said.
Barsi said his suppliers utilize overhead frost protection in order to avoid any major crop loss.
The Argentine deal that links the Michigan/British Columbia deals with the Chilean deal is gaining prominence as a stable go-to for year-round berry retailers.
Additionally, Argentine suppliers say the country is firmly committed to the commodity, while advances are being made to ensure quality and consistency despite logistical challenges to transportation.
“They had a very good year this last year as far as volumes. It’s been positive to have those bigger volumes, and it draws more attention in the fresh market,” said Mark Villata, executive director of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Folsom, Calif. of last year’s deals in Argentina and Chile. “It makes blueberries a year-round product in the consumer’s eyes.”
Villata said the progress is transitioning blueberries from a summertime-only fruit to a year-round commodity.