The first Chilean clementines of the season arrived in North America a couple of weeks earlier than last year, and the quality of the fruit is better than a year ago because a lengthy drought finally has come to an end, importers say.

Chile’s first 2017 shipment of clementines for the U.S. departed from the port of Valparaiso in mid-April and arrived in early May.

About 12,260 boxes were in the first shipment, nearly 90% of which ended up on the East Coast, according to the Santiago-based Chilean Citrus Committee.

The committee estimates that clementine volume will be slightly less than 2016, with about 42,000 tons exported between April and July.

In 2016, 99% of all Chilean clementines were shipped to North America, and that is expected to be the case this year, as well.

When clementine shipments start to wind down in July, mandarin volume will ramp up, with shipments continuing into October.

Mandarin volume is expected to increase 26%, while clementine volume likely will be down 2%, according to the Chilean Citrus Committee.

Weather in Chile has been hotter than usual, resulting in the fruit maturing earlier and with better sugar, said Matt Gordon, South American import team leader for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce Fla., a division of Delano, Calif.-based Wonderful Citrus, which markets Halos brand mandarins.

There were no unusual weather situations or pest or disease problems this year, he said.

“The fruit quality and size is better than last summer due to sufficient rain,” he added.

DNE expects its volume of Chilean clementines to be higher than last year.

Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific Shippers Inc., which markets the Cuties brand, will have Chilean mandarins available for shipment to customers the first week of June, said Howard Nager, vice president, business development.

“We have a rigorous quality control process to ensure that fruit meets all of the strict specifications for the Cuties brand,” he said. “We brand this fruit Summer Cuties.”

The clemenule variety will be available into August, and the w. murcott and tango varieties will be available mid-August through the beginning of the California season in October, Nager said.

Bee Sweet Citrus Inc., Fowler, Calif., started its Chilean clementine deal in mid-May, said Monique Bienvenue, director of communications.

“This year’s crop shows great quality,” she said. “Brix levels are said to be up, and size is in mid-range.”

Bee Sweet’s volume will be about the same as last year.

Reedley, Calif.-based Dayka & Hackett will have a substantial increase in volume of its w. murcott mandarins during the second part of the deal, which starts in August, said Tony Liberto, import citrus manager.

Quality overall is good, he said, and sizing also should be good because of ample rainfall during the growing season.

The company, which plans to launch a Minion Mandarins promotion tying in with the release of Universal Pictures’ “Despicable Me 3” in late June, packs bags of mandarins at locations on the West and East coasts.

Seald Sweet LLC, Vero Beach, Fla., received its first clementines from Chile in mid-May, said Peter Anderson, summer citrus commodity manager.

“As with other Chilean fruit commodities harvested in 2017, Chile is 10 days to two weeks early,” he said. “They have had two years now of abundant rainfall and snowpack, (which) has alleviated the drought conditions that had existed for many years, especially in the Coquimbo (area).”

“Seald Sweet’s clementine program comprises close to 60% of our volume, so they are very important, and spans the entire marketable season from mid-May through early November,” marketing director Kim Flores said.