Southeastern blueberries slowed by cold MarchEscaping serious weather damage, Southeastern blueberry production has begun and retailers can expect strong supplies for promotions, grower-shippers report.

Shorter supplies are also keeping early season prices high.

As Florida and Georgia experienced colder than normal March temperatures and hail struck isolated fields in south Georgia, grower-shippers say the inclement weather didn’t harm Georgia production and is expected to only slow the deal.

Georgia growers are ramping up volume expected to peak by early May, said Brian Bocock, the Grand Junction, Mich.-based vice president of product management for Naturipe Farms LLC in Naples, Fla.

“The Southern highbush is looking good,” Bocock said April 8. “So far, there has not been any significant crop-altering weather events ... We should expect some very nice promotional volumes from the last week of April to the first two weeks of May.

“The bottom line is, starting in May all the way through the second week of August, retailers can promote blueberries whenever they want. Pack, size and pricing will vary but promotional opportunities will be there.”

Growers in mid-April were reporting strong prices.

On April 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported flats of 12 6-ounce cups with lids large from central and north Florida selling for $26-28, down from late March when the USDA reported those sizes selling for $30-36.

Last year in Chicago, the USDA reported flats of 12 6-ounce cups with lids medium from central and north Florida selling for $28 on April 21 and $19-20 on April 28.

The abnormally cold March slowed Florida’s start and produced shorter early April supplies, said J.C. Clinard, senior vice president of Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms.

During the week of April 1, Florida growers packed more than 2 million pounds of fruit, considerably less than the industry expected 3 million to 4 million pounds, Clinard said.

“We have good quality but really tight supplies so far,” Clinard said April 9. “We think this week is the breakout week for supplies so retailers can go on good promotions starting next week and the following week.”

While some of the southern production regions around the Interstate 4 corridor were in peak volume or nearing peak production, north Florida growers were beginning their heavier volume the week of April 8, Clinard said.

He said he expects north Florida to peak by April 16 and said the state should hit its peak around April 20.

Naturipe’s Bocock said buyers should expect a small transition period as Georgia’s southern highbush deal builds with bigger volume for Memorial Day.

He said he expects Florida production to peak April 15 and said growers should keep ship smaller volumes into mid- to late May.

Though growers can harvest through Memorial Day, Florida typically ends production in mid-May, Clinard said.