PLANT CITY, Fla. — Cold weather in Florida and Georgia could slow the start of promotable volume for the region’s blueberries.
Though grower-shippers in late February predicted an earlier-than-normal start, Florida growers began harvesting only light volumes in late March.
Doug OhlemeierJeremy Burris, vice president of sales and sourcing for the Florida division of Colorful Harvest LLC inspects blueberries near Plant City, Fla., in late March. Grower-shippers were expecting to begin harvest about two weeks earlier than normal but cold weather pushed harvesting back to more normal times in early April. Grower-shippers say they don’t expect promotable volume to hit until mid-late April, as usual.
“Nothing’s really happening,” Bill Braswell, president of the Bartow-based Florida Blueberry Growers Association and owner of the Auburndale-based Polkdale Farms and Juliana Plantation, said March 26. “It’s been one cold front after another. The berries just aren’t ripening. Everyone’s picking in little dribs and drabs.”
Braswell, farm manager of Bartow-based Clear Springs Packing LLC, said a warm January helped pollination and fruit set but said cold weather since late February slowed fruit maturity.
He said growers should begin larger volume harvesting in early April.
Brian Bocock, the Grand Junction, Mich.-based vice president of product management for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, said April 15 should bring retailers limited opportunities for promotions but said larger volume won’t come until about a week after that.
“We had been thinking we were a solid 10-14 days earlier than normal,” Bocock said March 27. “But now it’s getting to be more and more like a normal harvest as far as timing.”
Hail that struck Georgia’s southern highbush crop March 30-31 caused isolated damage but shouldn’t hurt the state’s overall crop volume, Bocock said.
The cold weather, however, should push Georgia’s start from early April to after April 8, he said.
Georgia should increase production in late April before volume declines a little in mid- to late May, ahead of the start of its rabbit eye crop, Bocock said.
Wish Farms plans to harvest small volumes around March 29.
J.C. Clinard, senior vice president, said the grower-shipper plans to supply volume to some of its retail customers who are scheduling late April promotions.
In late March, Clinard said opening season prices were similar to last year’s.
On March 26, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported flats of 12 6-ounce cups with lids large selling for $30-36.00, mostly $32-34.50 with prior commitments at $26.
Noting light supply and strong demand for central and north Florida berries, the USDA reported flats of 12 4.4-ounce cups with lids medium-large fetching $24-28 with prior commitments at $22.
“The recent weather we’ve had has been like no other,” Clinard said. “The big quote around here this season is that Mother Nature substituted March for January this year and January for March. It’s really like no other crop we’ve seen in the past but we think the crop size should be good. The cool weather isn’t hurting anything and we expect a normal harvest through April.”
In late March, Colorful Harvest LLC, Salinas, Calif., also began harvesting small volumes from its Florida acreage.
Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner, said quality looks high.
“The cold weather will mean blueberry promotions will come a little later,” Ranno said March 26. “It will be a fight for volume at the beginning of the deal. Retailers need to be ready to promote during the first sign of warmer weather.”
Florida growers plan to harvest a record 25 million pounds from 5,000 acres, up from the 18.5 million pounds growers harvested from 4,500 acres last season, Braswell said.
Florida normally harvests through mid- to late May.