(Oct. 25) Chilean fruit exporters expect normal volume of grapes and increased volume of stone fruit in 2006-07.

However, scattered frost in early October and heavy rains in mid-October may have hurt some tree fruit and grape prospects.

Chilean avocados were arriving in the U.S. market in October, while shipments of Chilean cherries and blueberries will begin in November.

Grapes and stone fruit should arrive with light volume in November, expanding in December and January.

Chilean world fruit exports were 217 million cartons to all markets in 2005-06, according to figures from the Santiago-based marketing firm Eximfruit.

That total was up from 213 million cartons in 2004-05 and 206.6 million cartons in 2004-05.

Chilean fruit exports to North America in 2005-06 were 100.4 million packages, down slightly from 102.2 million packages in 2004-05 but up from 91.3 million in 2003-04.

Exporters said overall volume of Chilean grapes could be reduced after a bumper crop last year contributed to poor returns to growers.

Heavy rains in mid-October probably will have some adverse effect on fruit production but it was too early to say the extent, said Jonathan Bass, chief executive officer of Dole Chile, Santiago.

Bass said grape volumes in the northern region of Copiapo are expected to be normal and slightly earlier than last year.

“We should have similar volumes to last season with the exception of some white seedless grapes,” Bass said, noting that some marginal producers who are no longer competitive due to cost and quality issues will no longer be producing.

Fruit exporters are challenged by the country’s copper export windfalls that have filled Chile with dollars and strengthened the peso.

Chilean exporters received only 531 Chilean pesos per U.S. dollar in mid-October, compared with 718 pesos per dollar in early 2003.

“The weakness of the dollar is putting pressure on everyone, especially at the grower level where costs are 70% labor and labor is up 50% in the last two years,” Bass said.

Alejandro Barros, general manager of Aconex Ltda., Santiago, said in mid-October the season appeared to progressing normally.

He said blueberries and cherries might see the most aggressive growth, with 10% to 15% percent more volume possible this year.

North America accounted for 6.2 million cartons of Chilean blueberries in 2005-06, up from 5.1 million cartons last year.

Cherry exports to North America were 2.2 million cartons in 2005-06, up from 1.2 million cartons in 2004-05.