A majority of Argentina blueberries imported to the U.S. are shipped by air, but sea shipments are expected to increase again this year. ( Courtesy Crowley Maritime Corp. )

Air shipments are the dominant channel for U.S. imports of Argentina blueberries, but U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics showed that shipments by boat increased in 2017.

Trade sources reported an even bigger volume of sea shipments is expected this year.

The USDA reported that air shipments accounted for 85% of all Argentina blueberry volume in 2017, down from 98% of volume for air in 2015.

Still, Argentina’s air shipments of blueberries are far above those of its South American competitors, according to the USDA.

The USDA reported that air shipments of Peruvian blueberries accounted for 6.3% of total imports in 2017. For Chile, air shipments accounted for 12% of U.S. imports in 2017.

Argentina blueberry exporters will be sending more fruit to the U.S. by boat through Chile this year, which has a transit time of 17 days, said Pier Paolo Giua, representative with Argentina exporter Hortifrut Expofresh SA.

Industry forecasts predict about 35% of Argentina blueberries will be exported to the U.S. by sea containers this year, he said.


2017 season

For Argentina blueberry imports to the U.S., the USDA said that the Miami airport accounted for about 64% of total import in 2017, compared with 76% in 2016 and 55% in 2015.

Boat shipments of blueberries to Philadelphia/Camden accounted for 13% of U.S. imports in 2017, way up from 3.4% in 2016 and 1.6% in 2015.

New York’s JFK Airport accounted for 12.1% of Argentina blueberry imports in 2017, up from 7.6% in 2016 and 4.2% in 2015.

The Los Angeles Airport accounted for 4.9% of Argentina blueberry imports in 2017, down from 6.6% in 2016, 35% in 2015 and 6.2% in 2014.


Monthly availability

Typically higher blueberry prices in the last quarter of the year create incentives for the higher-cost air shipments.

The USDA reported that average 2017 blueberry f.o.b. prices for October, November and December ranged from $25.26 per carton to $27.64 per carton, compared with $17.34 to $19.83 per carton in June, July and August last year.

According to the USDA, Argentina in 2017 shipped about 49% of its annual volume to the U.S. in October and 39% in November.

Some Argentina blueberry air arrivals were expected around the first week of September, with the season continuing into early December, said Tom Richardson, senior vice president of global development for The Giumarra Cos., Los Angeles.

Giumarra will increase the volume of fruit the company receives in bulk and by vessel this season from Argentina, he said.

“This allows us to avoid fumigation for both the organic and conventional fruit, and then we will pack the fruit here in order to ensure our customers are receiving freshly packed product and in the pack type they require,” Richardson said.