Fumigation requirements placed on Argentina blueberries bound for the U.S. present one of the toughest hurdles for Argentina’s industry, suppliers in the U.S. say.
“The problem in Argentina right now is you have to either fumigate it or cold-treat it,” said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for the Grand Junction, Mich., office of Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla.
Most growers choose the fumigation option, but with that comes higher transportation costs, Bocock said.
“The deal with that is, you absolutely have to fly it,” he said.
Dave Bowe, owner of Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc., Coral Spring, Fla., said it costs Argentina blueberry shippers $5 per case to do that.
“Tough to make a profit with that kind of cost,” he said.
Bocock pointed out that most Argentina shippers are, more or less, forced into shipping their product by air because of the requirements.
“They will not take a boat ride for 17 days after they fumigate it,” Bocock said.
Chilean shippers, by contrast, aren’t under the same restrictions, he added.
“In Chile, they don’t have to fumigate, nor do they have to have a cold treatment, unless they find some sort of pest down there that needs to be eradicated before it comes to the U.S.,” he said.
“As such, they could put it on a boat and bring it up here and you’ve got a really good shelf life, as long as you don’t break the cold chain.”
What that means is 21 days of shelf life on a blueberry, as long as the cold chain isn’t broken, Bocock said.
“Where they’ve been successful is, it’s only 14 days to Miami, 16 days to Philly and 15 days to L.A., and you can get it moved out and give retailers three, four, five days easy to sell it through his system,” he said.
Cold treatment can carry some risks, aside from taking more time, Bocock said.
“The bottom line is, it takes a pretty substantial amount of time and, frankly, as a general statement across the entire landscape, it won’t hold up long enough for that to work,” he said.
“Will some of the product hold up? Yes. But when you’re already working on tight margins, you can’t take the risk of a significant percentage of your product not holding up and getting, frankly, very poor returns and poor quality.”
What is the solution for Argentina’s blueberry growers and shippers?
“What it needs is, first off, in Argentina, they need a lower cost of production and logistics to get it to the U.S.,” he said.
“Their cost per pound or kilo is too high. That can be addressed through a number of different things.”