The Argentinean Blueberry Committee has estimated the country’s growers will produce more than 19,000 tons of the tiny blue fruit this season, and more than 12,000 tons will be shipped to the U.S.
Importers, however, caution that those figures could depend on September weather.
“We still have time for Mother Nature to affect the start and the volume for this season,” Mike Bowe, vice president of Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc., Coral Springs, Fla., said Aug. 30.
“The northern region, Tucuman, has had trouble the last few years with late frosts that have done heavy crop damage just prior to the start of the season. The Tucuman region does not have a lot of farms with frost protection, as the frosts are not normal for that area.”
Bowe said very light shipments from Tucuman should start arriving in the U.S. during the week of Sept. 19.
Inés Peláez, manager of the Argentinean Blueberry Committee, said harvest should begin in Concordia in early October, with volumes increasing by the week of Oct. 10.
The country’s overall volume should peak beginning the week of Oct. 24 when harvest starts in Buenos Aires. The committee estimates that Argentina will ship at least 1,000 tons to the U.S. for five straight weeks beginning that week, providing significant volume into late November.
“We’re trying to make Thanksgiving a blueberry holiday,” said Keith Mixon, president of Sunny Ridge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla.
Quality should be excellent, said Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla.
Of the more than 12,000 tons expected to arrive in U.S. markets, nearly 11,000 tons will arrive by air cargo with Miami and Los Angeles being the top destinations.
Air freight, along with fumigation requirements, give Argentina’s crop a higher price point than many other growing areas.
Joe Barsi, vice president of business development for California Giant Berry Farms, Watsonville, Calif., said cases of a dozen 4.4-ounce clamshells cost $38-40 at the beginning of last season.
Prices likely will be high at the front end of the deal again this year, Barsi said.
“There is not as much storage fruit available this year out of Oregon and Michigan,” he said.
“Inventories will be less than last year. British Columbia, Oregon and Washington could still have some fresh product but not in significant volumes. I expect a strong start for Argentina.”
The USDA reported Aug. 30 that blueberry movement was decreasing in Michigan, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
In Oregon and Washington, flats of 12 1-pint cups of medium-large blueberries were $22.50-24.50.
Another factor that could affect the fresh market is high prices for processed and frozen berries.
“This year, an excellent frozen market will put a check on the pack for fresh,” said Janice Honigberg, president of Sun Belle Inc., Washington, D.C.
“Growers will be very aware of the pricing for their fruit at destination and will be ready to divert to processing or the freezer.”
The Argentinean Blueberry Committee plans to issue an updated crop report on Sept. 25, on its website at http://tinyurl.com/3gz7s65.