Grower-shippers in the Chilean blueberry deal say fumigation brings several challenges, with logistics being a top concern.
“All Chilean blueberries destined for the U.S. from regions VI, VII and VIII will need to go through the fumigation process in order to comply with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s fumigation as a condition of entry due to the European grapevine moth,” said Frank Ramos, president of The Perishable Specialist Inc., Miami.
These requirements weren’t present before December, and some companies have seen issues with working out the details of the fumigation process.
“The Chilean blueberry industry wasn’t really set up to fumigate tremendous volumes so there will be some issues. It has put some pressure on us, logistics-wise,” said Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations, Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla.
Koukoulis expects the fumigation chambers to be packed, which could cause some delays. Because of this, many shipments won’t be able to be fumigated until they reach the U.S.
“We’re set up to have the containers brought to the ports and go right into fumigation,” he said.
Others agree the U.S. side will be handling a lot of the fumigation.
“USDA will allow fumigations to take place in Miami for ocean container arrivals,” Ramos said.
He said The Perishable Specialist has everything in place to handle the clearing and fumigation process for blueberries from these regions.
In addition, these adjustments have created opportunities for some companies to expand their operations.
“Some are adding chambers to increase capacity,” he said.
Increased costs for growers have raised concerns.
“This is something the growers in Chile have never had to incur in the past, so we have to take all of that into consideration,” Koukoulis said.
Potential quality issues are also a challenge, said Eric Crawford, president of Fresh Results LLC, Sunrise, Fla.
“It’s never a good thing for shelf life when products have to fumigated,” he said.
Fumigation requires growers and shippers to perform more advanced screening to ensure shipments are of good quality fruit.
“We have to be vigilant in ensuring we have good quality on all the fruit that gets loaded and shipped,” Crawford said.
He also said certain varieties tend to hold up better.
“In the past, we haven’t had any issues because we didn’t have to fumigate, but now, those varieties may cause some challenges,” he said.
However, not everyone is expecting to see any side effects on quality.
“As long as the cold chain is adhered to properly, the process of fumigations shouldn’t hurt the berries. That temperature has to be brought back down very quickly, though,” Koukoulis said.
Overall, grower-shippers say the challenges are significant but that Chile will continue to be an important source of fresh blueberries in the winter.
“Chile is one of our stand-out countries with excellent quality and great volume,” Ramos said.
The Perishable Specialist is a customs broker company specializing in produce imported into the U.S., and Ramos deals with shipments from many countries and believes Chile to be one of the best countries to work with.
“Chile’s export process is meticulous and the standard to which other countries should strive to accomplish,” Ramos said.
Brie Reiter Smith, general manager of Driscoll’s of Chile, agreed the season should turn out to be a good one.
“The season looks to be strong in terms of volume,” Smith said Oct. 10, mentioning there were no changes in the fumigation regulations to date.