Northwest blueberry shipments should continue long enough to overlap with early-season Argentinean berries.

Selah, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co. expects to ship Northwest-grown blueberries through about mid-October, almost a month past last year’s end date, said Blake Belknap, the company’s blueberry commodity manager.

A combination of cooler weather this summer and Rainier’s putting 400 acres of blueberries under shade cover slowed growth and allowed the company to extend its season, Belknap said.

About half of the blueberries shipped by Rainier in the final weeks of its deal will be organic.

The timing is good, Belknap said, given that many retailers have struggled to find blueberries, particularly organic blueberries, in late summer.

“Some chains have delisted organic blueberries” because of shortages, Belknap said. “We’re trying to say, ‘We have a fresh alternative.’”

Rainier is in the process of transitioning fields into organic production, Belknap said. In 2012, almost all of the company’s blueberries will be organic, he said.

The increase in late-season Northwest blueberries should mean prices won’t be as high as last year at the tail end of the domestic deal and the beginning of the Argentinean deal, said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla.

On Sept. 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $18.50-20.50 for flats of 12 6-ounce cups of Northwest blueberries, down from $24-26.90 last year at the same time.

While there will be some overlap, Bocock forecasts a smooth transition from domestic blueberries to Argentinean product.

Coral Springs, Fla.-based berry importer Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc. expects to begin receiving Argentinean blueberries during the first week of October, right on time, said Dave Bowe, the company’s owner.

Volume shipments should begin three weeks after that and continue through December, Bowe said. Chilean blueberries, meanwhile, should begin arriving in a light way in mid-November, he said.

Very light shipments of Argentinean blueberries will begin arriving the week of Sept. 26, but significant volumes aren’t expected until late the week of Oct. 9, Bocock said.

All signs were pointing toward a high-quality crop, Bocock said.

“For the first time in awhile, there were no significant weather events. It’s setting up for a nice crop.”

As of Sept. 20, Bowe had heard of no adverse growing conditions in Argentina. Volumes, however, should be down, though not because of lower acreage or yields.

“Last year and the year before, a lot of people didn’t make much money” on Argentinean blueberries, Bowe said. “There will be decent volumes this year, but less.”

Volumes from Argentina could be up this season, Bocock said, but a lot depends on how much fresh product will be diverted into the frozen market, which is currently enjoying high prices.

Bowe doesn’t think an extended season in the Northwest will complicate the beginning of the Argentinean deal. In fact, cool, wet weather in Michigan and on the U.S. and Canadian west coasts has limited availability in the runup to import deals.

“We really don’t have the quantity needed,” he said. “Right now there are 4.4 and 6 (ounce containers), not pints.”