Conditions point to a good crop and a normal start to the blueberry season in Argentina.
All regions were reporting good growing conditions, and fruit quality was expected to be “very good,” according to the Buenos Aires-based Argentinean Blueberry Committee.
“The good news this season is that the weather has been mild, with a normal to lower-than-normal number of chill units,” said Carlos Stabile, the committee’s treasurer and project manager with Extraberries SA, along with Fernando Skiarsky, committee member and president of Berries del Plata SA.
“This weather situation determines a more gradual volume curve, meaning the peak weeks will not be as high and the timing should be closer to historical normal.”
Last year’s production was concentrated, with peak production about 10 days earlier than normal, Stabile and Skiarsky said.
“That situation confused the market, since it was not used to those kinds of volumes at those early weeks,” they said.
That stability should translate to higher prices, Stabile and Skiarsky said.
“Last year, prices hit a historic record low for our window, and we believe it was a combination of many factors, (with) the concentration of our arrivals the main factor,” they said.
That being said, retailers should have promotable volumes at competitive prices as volumes increase.
As of Sept. 5, British Columbia was shipping medium to large sized blueberries in flats of 12 1-pint cups with lids for $24-26, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A year earlier, the same product was $20-24.
Customers were eager for the first shipments, said Frank Ramos, president/CEO of the The Perishable Specialist Inc. in Miami.
“Shippers and importers alike have informed us that the first air-flown fruit out of (Buenos Aires) for this season should be arriving at Miami International Airport during week 35 (the last week of August),” he said.
Argentina blueberries signal the start of the season for The Perishable Specialist Inc., Ramos said.
“Argentina is always the first out the gate with blueberries, and then Uruguay, Peru and Chile arrive at the show, but it’s always Argentina that is the fire starter for us,” he said.
Luciano Fiszman, blueberry category manager with Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading Co. was in South America in late August, visiting fields and meeting with growers in Argentina and elsewhere.
“The crop looks very good and healthy,” he said. “Winter was good for the crop, and a decent spring is expected. Weather may stay with lower temperatures (than) historical, which could help quality overall.”
Fiszman said the Argentine crop appeared to be about a week early, and some growers already were harvesting some fruit.
“So far, this product has been marketed locally in Buenos Aires that has been paying considerably better than the export markets at the moment for this short volume,” he said.
Cindy Jewell, marketing director with Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Berry Farms, said she anticipated a normal blueberry crop out of Argentina.
“Our volume will be similar to last year,” she said.
Peru may pose the biggest challenges to Argentina’s export crop, Jewell said.
“They may affect the market, since they could potentially have fruit during the same time period, as a newer growing region,” she said.
Richard Doyle, director of business development for retail with Miami-based Crystal Valley Foods, said he was anticipating a good year for blueberries in Argentina.
“It’s going to be more competitive than ever,” he said.
Eric Crawford, president of Sunrise, Fla.-based Fresh Results LLC, said demand typically heats up for Argentina blueberries around the third week of September.
The U.S. typically gets going in volume a week or so after Asia, the U.K. and continental Europe, he said.