Despite back-to-back troublesome berry seasons in the Southern Hemisphere, importers of berries from South America hope for better weather.

“Weather problems have caused crop disasters the last two seasons in Argentina and Chile,” said Dave Bowe, owner of Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc., Coral Springs, Fla.

It is too early to estimate whether the continent will suffer a three-peat, he said, but he is optimistic.

“When the weather is good down there, South American growers have done an outstanding job,” he said.

Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., anticipates this Argentine blueberry crop will be as large as or larger than the pre-weather disaster predictions for the country’s 2008 deal, said Robert Verloop, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

“It is far too early to predict the weather down there with any certainty,” he said.

Blueberries from Argentina

Another optimistic importer is Keith Mixon, president of SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla. Decent weather should contribute to what Mixon anticipates will be a big blueberry deal in Argentina. The first shipments, he said, should begin arriving in the U.S. in September just as the domestic blueberry season begins to taper off.

Bowe, who also markets domestic fruit and brings in berries from Uruguay, Guatemala and Mexico, said food safety is no longer a concern with the imported fruit.

“All the growers we do business with are third party certified,” he said.

Nearly all of Bowe’s berries from South America arrive in Miami and Philadelphia, but he does ship infrequently to California ports, he said.

SunnyRidge Farm schedules regular shipments to Miami, Northeastern ports and California.

“Those locations permit us to have fruit at just about any distribution center within 72 hours of a ship’s arrival in port,” Mixon said.

The Chilean blueberry season gets a later start than the fields in Argentina, Bowe said. The first shipments of the Chilean crop are expected to arrive in October, he said, while early fall shipments of blackberries will come about the same time from Uruguay, Mexico and Guatemala.

SunnyRidge Farm sources blackberries and raspberries from Mexico. The import season is scheduled to begin in mid-October, Mixon said.

“We’ve been receiving some outstanding berries from Mexico, and we’re expecting another good season from our Mexican grower-shippers,” he said.

Improved shipping costs

A major challenge importers of South American fruit faced in 2008, the skyrocketing cost of bunker oil for ships, has all but disappeared with the more reasonable fuel prices this year, Mixon said. Importers must still deal with some minor logistical problems on the west coast of South America, however.

“Chile needs to develop more accuracy in its delivery systems,” Mixon said.

SunnyRidge Farm is working with grower-shippers and exporters to improve fruit storage and to upgrade control of storage techniques in the controlled-atmosphere shipping containers, he said.

“It’s all a matter of attention to detail. That’s critical,” Mixon said.