(March 1) Chilean blueberry volume should decline in March and early April as Florida product comes on, but quality of the imported fruit is expected to be good.

Keith Mixon, president of Sunnyridge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla., said he expected normal, smaller volumes during early April as Chilean movement declines and Florida’s berry volume builds.

Florida will be the only production area going during early April, until California and other growing regions begin shipments a couple of weeks after Florida.

Chile will finish picking its elliot variety by the third week of March. Florida’s production is expected to start with limited volume in early April with its southern high bush varieties. Volume will peak toward the end of April, Mixon said.

MORE FROM CHILE

Chilean shipments in late February were about 31% ahead of last season. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Chilean shippers shipped 38.2 million pounds of berries through late February versus the previous season’s 26.3 million pounds.

Rick Haller, blueberry category manager for Naples, Fla.-based Global Berry Farms LLC, which has growing operations in Chile, attributed the increase to new varietal plants.

Chile’s last ocean shipments would arrive April 10-17, he said.

Mark Greeff, director of blueberry supply for Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc.’s Dover, Fla., operation, said importers were seeing the affects of increased Chilean plantings.

“Chile has had an exceptional season,” he said. “Their quality has been a lot higher than it has been before, especially later in the season.”

A Feb. 14 freeze harmed 10% to 15% of central and northern Florida and Georgia production, Mixon said.

The cold snap burned the early fruit, and ice hanging on the bushes caused bush breakage. Mixon said, however, that the limited damage wouldn’t harm later season production. Damage to the early fruit may increase overall quality toward the end of the season, he said.

“The quality of the crop looks great,” Mixon said Feb. 28. “There’s no question we will have a big crop that’s a little better than last year.”

PRICES

Late Chilean season prices were already starting to increase with the smaller volume of fresh product on the market, Greeff said. He said prices were already climbing into the $20s.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Feb. 28 that flats of 12 4.4-ounce lidded containers arriving in Los Angeles sold for $16-18. Product arriving in Miami and Philadelphia sold for $16-17.

Last season, shipments arriving in Los Angeles in early March sold for $14-16. Product arriving in Miami and Philadelphia sold for $12-$14.

In mid-April last season, when Florida’s deal started, flats of 12 4.4-ounce lidded containers shot up to $36-40.25 before declining to $34-36.25 by late April.

Mixon said he expected this season’s Florida prices to increase as the state’s shippers start hitting volume.