Grower-shippers began the Chilean blueberry season expecting a nice-sized deal from Chile this year, with a substantial increase over last year’s volume. However, a recent freeze likely reduced the expected volumes.

“There was a freeze, but it was nowhere near what we saw last year,” said Karen Brux, managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, San Carlos, Calif.

Brux said early reports show only a 5% reduction.

“We’re still measuring the impact this freeze had, but I just spoke to a grower who said he still expected exports to the U.S. to increase,” she said Oct. 16.

Still, many shippers say the year should be a good one, especially compared to last year.

Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, said many authorities in Chile are forecasting a large crop.

“They are currently forecasting the potential of 100 million kilos across all growing regions. The majority of this will be harvested by hand and shipped to North America,” Flores said before the frost.

Some of that may have been lost, but likely not a huge portion.

Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for Naturipe, is cautiously optimistic about the expected increases, but says there could be potential challenges considering the country’s current fight to control the grapevine moth.

“Assuming the European grapevine moth does not impact us more than last year we expect more fruit to come to North America this year,” he said.

However, new plantings have slowed after the issues last year.

“Acreage for Chile has remained stable (with) little new plantings. New plantings in Chile (have) virtually stopped after last year’s industry issues,” Bocock said.

Flores said the planting that continues tends to be medium- or large-scale growers reinvesting into their farms.

“They are replacing older, poor producing and poor performing varieties with new plantings they feel confident will produce well. New plantings promise good yields and quality levels that will allow product to arrive in good condition to all market destinations,” he said.

Naturipe acreage is stable this year with last year.

Other companies expect to see an increase as well.

“For us, production is up dramatically,” said Eric Crawford, president of Fresh Results LLC, Sunrise, Fla.

Many grower-shippers say their supply will double, or nearly double.

“From what I’m being told by our growers and the Chilean Blueberry Committee, we should expect about a 40% increase over last year. That’s pretty significant,” Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations for Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla., said in early October.

Wish Farms expected a 50% increase within the company before the freeze.

Koukoulis said one reason for the increase is more acreage coming to maturity. However, the new fumigation requirements also may play a part.

“All those acres that were organic are now going to become conventional,” he said.

Frank Ramos, president of The Perishable Specialist Inc., a Miami-based customs broker, said the companies he works with are all seeing increased volume, even with freeze damages.

“We were advised they expected the freeze would cost them 10% but were confident they could make the 10% up with later fruit,” Ramos said.

Overall, the country ships a large percentage of blueberries to the U.S. in the winter.

“Chile is the number one exporter of fresh blueberries in the world, with more than 15,600 hectares planted across nine regions,” Brux said.

She said the country’s program is growing.

New growers are also entering the industry.

“New companies are getting into the blueberry business in Chile and their interests are represented by the Chilean Blueberry Committee. The committee is committed to promoting blueberry consumption worldwide, and it represents 80% of the blueberry exports from Chile,” Brux said.

Overall, grower-shippers are trying to manage the country’s growth with their supply.

“We continue to increase our Chilean blueberry supply in tandem with the high demand for this category driving item,” said Matt Giddings, category coordinator for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, who manages Oppy’s imported berry program.