Blueberry markets were strengthening as domestic deals begin the transition to imports.

Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, said an early end to the company’s Oregon, Washington and British Columbia deals has been offset in part by a late end to Michigan shipments.

“We’re in a different cycle this year,” Flores said Sept. 3. “Most Northwest growers are finished picking, and there are lighter volumes than usual for this time of year. Michigan, though, will be fairly steady over the next few weeks, believe it or not.”

While many Northwest shippers will switch to 4.4.-ounce containers in mid-September as volumes sharply decline, Michigan shippers should stick with 6-ouncers into the first or second week of October, he said.

Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Inc. was winding down its Oregon and British Columbia deals in early September, said Cindy Jewell, the company’s marketing director.

Cal Giant’s Northwest production was up this season as the company added acreage and saw more mature production levels from existing acreage.

The company expected to begin sourcing blueberries from Argentina and Chile “in the next month or so,” Jewell said Sept. 2.

The beginning of the school year has been a boon for demand, which was already strong to begin with, Jewell said.

On Sept. 3, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $22-26 for flats of 12 6-ounce cups mediums and larges from Michigan, up from $18.50-22.50 last year at the same time.

“It’s definitely picked up in the last few days. Demand is strong — all that nutrition, people are looking for darker berries.”

There’s always some gap between the end of the domestic deals and the beginning of the South American deals, Jewell said, but this year’s should be short.

Strong demand could draw Argentinian exporters into the deal sooner than usual, Flores said. In fact, some Argentinian fruit had already landed in Miami at the end of August, he said.

“Prices are higher in early September than we’ve seen in several years,” he said.

Prices could go even higher in September, depending on how fast Northwest volumes decline and how quickly Argentinian volumes ramp up, Flores said.