Florida blueberry volumes should be up this year and shippers expect strong demand to meet it.

Blueberry crop benefits from Florida freezes

Courtesy SunnyRidge

Winter Haven, Fla.-based SunnyRidge Farm Inc. expects to begin picking the week of March 21, with volume peaking the second week of April, said Keith Mixon, the company’s president and chief executive officer.

The Florida blueberry industry is expected to produce up to 18 million pounds this season, about 3 million more than in 2010, Mixon said.

The season is projected to start slightly earlier than normal, Mixon said, thanks to excellent growing weather. The winter cold that hurt Florida vegetables proved to be ideal for dormant blueberry plants, he said.

“Things are progressing nicely,” Mixon said. “We haven’t had any big hiccups this year.”

Chilean supplies began dropping off in early March, with the bulk of remaining shipments coming in by air, said Dave Bowe, owner of Coral Springs, Fla.-based berry importer Dave's Specialty Imports Inc.

“The first of April could be the end of it,” Bowe said.

Chilean shippers thought they would have more product at the end of the season, but a combination of very hot weather and excessive rains put the brakes on that, and a more normal end to the deal is the expected result, Bowe said.

Despite the earlier-than-expected end to the Chilean deal, Bowe expected a smooth transition to Florida.

“Everyone thought there would be a gap, but it’s not appearing that it’s going to happen,” he said.

Mixon expects continued strong demand as the Chilean deal yields to Florida.

“Shipments from Chile are falling dramatically, so it should make for a great window for Florida blueberries,” he said.

On March 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $14 for flats of 12 6-ounce cups of blueberries from Chile, down from $16-18 last year at the same time.

The Florida blueberry deal will begin in a light way about April 1, with decent volumes expected by about the third week of the month, Bowe said.

Markets could strengthen later in the Florida deal, most likely in May, if California gets off to a late start due to excessive rains, Bowe said.

Similarly, heavy rains in North Carolina, New Jersey and other Eastern growing regions could significantly affect timing and volumes later in the deal.

SunnyRidge expects normal yields this season, he said. Acreage for the company is up over 2010. Fruit is expected to peak on large sizes, with little scarring or other quality issues expected.

Both acreage and yields are expected to be up this year in Florida, Bowe said.