Growers say the Chilean blueberry deal appears to be on time, and possibly even early, despite a freeze on Oct. 8-9. The freeze won’t be as devastating as last year, they say.
“I think there were some orchards that were harder hit, but overall, the average will be far below what we saw last year,” said Karen Brux, managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, San Carlos, Calif.
Eric Crawford, president of Fresh Results LLC, Sunrise, Fla., said damage was limited to a few areas, mainly the Los Angeles and Chillan area, and that not every field was affected the same way.
“The topography varies greatly, hence a dramatic variance in damage as well. For example, many low-lying areas were effected more than higher elevation,” Crawford said.
Certain varieties were also more effected.
“I think it is too early to give an accurate estimate. Yes, there was significant damage in those regions, but that is the only responsible estimate at this point,” he said.
Before the freeze, the country was following in the year’s pattern of Southern Hemisphere deals running slightly ahead of schedule.
“We are looking to ship one week earlier than last year,” Brux said.
Many shippers say the deal could begin up to 10 days early.
“From my understanding, we may be a week early, putting us in early November,” said Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations for Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla.
Others agree the weather so far has been ideal for an earlier deal.
“The weather has cooperated this season and all indications are that we will have a solid early crop from Chile this year,” said Frank Ramos, president of The Perishable Specialist Inc., Miami.
But just because some predictions are saying the crop could be early, Mother Nature may say otherwise.
“A large group believes the fruit out of Chile will be early, but they also thought Argentina would be early and turned out to be right on time,” Crawford said.
Crawford said that even though weather has been favorable for an earlier start to the season, it can always delay the crop at the last minute.
“We’ve had warmer than normal temperatures up until now, which has accelerated the crop, but we may get colder temperature prior to harvest that kind of recalibrates everything to come at the normal time,” he said.
Growers hope the freeze on Oct. 8 will be the only problem, since this freeze wasn’t as devastating.
“This in no way compares to last year,” Brux said.
Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, said the season looks like it will start a week to 10 days early, but he expects it to return to normal as the deal progresses.
“We see early season varieties as being the most advanced with most of the mid-season varieties closer to normal by the time they will be ready to harvest,” Flores said.
He also said the weather has been favorable overall for a good crop but not without some challenges.
“So far, there have been no major negative weather events for the seventh region. There has been a frost reported in the eighth and ninth regions but not a major event identified at the moment,” Flores said before the Oct. 8 freeze.
Matt Giddings, category coordinator for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, manages Oppy’s imported berry program and said the company’s earliest fruit has already started ahead of schedule.
“Shipping is underway a few weeks early this year, due to the great weather in Chile during the growing season,” Giddings said.
Oppy’s Chilean blueberry arrivals began with air fruit in early October to meet early-season demand, and will transition to the vessel program in early December.
“We anticipate supply to continue through mid-March,” Giddings said.
He said supply and quality are also very good this year.
This year, production should return to normal levels.
Brux said the crop is looking great so far, especially compared to last year.
“In September of 2013, Chile suffered the worst freeze in 80 years, but weather has been very favorable in 2014. After a 14% drop in total fresh blueberry exports from Chile last season, we are expecting a 39% increase for the 2014-15 season,” Brux said before estimates of this year’s freeze damage were available.