(July 19) An early end to the New Jersey blueberry deal and a late start for Michigan should mean strong pricing ahead for Michigan blueberries, shippers say.

By mid-July, Michigan’s f.o.b.s were above last year’s levels. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported boxes of 12 1-pint cups of medium-large blueberries at $12 July 15, compared to large at mostly $11 the same time last year.

Movement from New Jersey is expected to decrease now that harvest has passed its peak there, the USDA reported.

In mid-July, demand for blueberries exceeded supplies, said Mike Klackle, vice president of sales for Global Berry Farms, Naples, Fla., the exclusive marketer for MBG Marketing/Michigan Blueberry Growers Association, Grand Junction.

Michigan’s blueberry crop was lagging behind normal production schedules, partly because of the state’s drought conditions, which slowed ripening, he said.

The association had expected to hit its peak the week of July 15, Klackle said. That could be delayed toward the end of the week of July 22, he said.

Last year the association produced 9 million pounds of Michigan’s 20 million pounds of fresh blueberries, said Kirk McCreary, general manager.

The same drought conditions limiting initial volumes also could result in smaller sizing of blueberries, said Miguel Ochoa, partner in A&L Farms Inc., Grand Haven, Mich.

Still, McCreary said most growers have overhead irrigation. Rains the week of July 8 also helped considerably, he said.

Farther north than Grand Junction, A&L normally starts harvest around July 7. This year, Ochoa said he didn’t see harvest beginning until around July 19.

“So we’re running a couple of weeks late,” he said.

The company usually gets into heavy volumes by the first week of August, but that could also be a few days late because of the season’s late start.

Spring freezes also could contribute to lower blueberry volumes from Michigan, where production is expected to decrease by 10% this season, Ochoa said.

Last year, Michigan produced 63.5 million pounds of blueberries, with 20 million of that going to the fresh market, McCreary said. This season, the industry has projected total production at 57 million pounds, with 20 million slated for the fresh market, he said.

Peak Michigan production during July opens up opportunities for retail promotions, he said. British Columbia should come on the scene in early August, McCreary said.

Michigan should continue to ship through October from controlled-atmosphere storage, he said.