A massive earthquake that hit the central and southern regions of the country’s fruit belt Feb. 27 caused significant damage to growing areas, packing sheds, cold storage facilities and ports, and blueberries were among the commodities most affected.
But within an almost unbelievable short amount of time, blues were loaded onto ships bound for the U.S. and business returned more or less to normal.
Now, with the 2010-11 Chilean blueberry season about to kick into high gear, importers said the aftereffects of the quake won’t likely be felt at all.
With the extensive work needed to repair infrastructure in Chile after the earthquake, Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC used the opportunity to upgrade its information technology resources, making it easier for the company to communicate with its Chilean partners and to better track shipments, said Jim Roberts, Naturipe’s vice president of sales.
When it comes to this season, Roberts doesn’t expect any echoes of the earthquake to be heard.
“I am amazed at how quickly Chile was able to react and rebuild,” he said. “Within 10 to 14 days, they were shipping blueberries.”
Naturipe’s partners, however, weren’t even talking about this season.
“It’s amazing how quickly they’ve gotten back to business as usual,” he said. “It’s a pretty resilient country.”
Joe Barsi, director of business development for Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Inc., agreed.
The produce industry, Barsi said, is too important for Chile to take any chances with.
“Exports are a vital part of Chile’s economy, and the Chilean government made sure the infrastructure to support exports was repaired.”
Janice Honigberg, president of Washington, D.C.-based Sun Belle Inc., was similarly awed by the speed of the recovery.
“Our own shipping almost miraculously resumed after the earthquake,” she said. “Once the airport was back in operation, product was made available.”
Honigberg doesn’t expect any lingering effects from the earthquake to influence blueberry exports this season.
The earthquake severely affected many of Chile’s roads and bridges, and shipping ports suffered major damage, said John Johnston, director of blueberry product management for Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates.
It affected shipments for the balance of the Chilean season, but Driscoll continued importing fruit, albeit at a slower pace.
“Driscoll’s production facilities were not seriously affected and were back in operation within two days of the earthquake,” he said.