(March 16) This year’s Florida blueberry crop looks to be more promising than last year’s, according to shippers.

Good overall weather in Florida and southern Georgia throughout the winter months and early this spring have boosted growers’ and shippers’ confidence about the upcoming Florida blueberry season.

Volume is expected to increase this year from last year, mainly due to a consistently cool winter in Florida and progressively warmer weather in March, said Keith Mixon, general manager of Sunnyridge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla.

“The spring and winter have been kind to us to date,” Mixon said. “We expect an excellent year with very high quality and very good volumes.”

A frost in southern Georgia and northern Florida at the end of February 2003 hampered the blueberry crop until late in April last year.

Mixon expected this year to be a stronger year for Florida blueberries, somewhat like 2002, when nearly 3 million pounds of blueberries were harvested in the Florida region.

Shippers agreed that every growing region in Florida looked good as of mid-March.

The Florida season begins the first week of April and usually goes through the middle of May.

“Last year was just a real cruddy year,” Mixon said. “This year should be more like the season two years ago.”

Pollination problems in parts of Florida and southern Georgia were also to blame for the crops last year, he said.

Crops in the northern part of Florida, around the Gainesville area particularly, had pollination problems last year. This area is where the bulk of Florida’s blueberries come from.

Without any weather setbacks, Mixon expected peak production around April 22 or 23.

Georgia’s production peaks two to three weeks after Florida, but blueberry production from the two states overlap.

The Chilean blueberry deal is close to done, and will be switching solely to Florida by the second week of April.

“Chile’s harvest is finished,” Mixon said. “All of the product from Chile is either on the water or being packed.”

Prices for blueberries were expected to be similar to last year’s, Mixon said. Even though volumes should be up, he said that there is a good increase in demand as well.

Brian Bocock, vice president of sales, Global Berry Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., agreed.

“Prices should follow the same patterns they did last year,” he said.

In late April last year, 100-gram containers of south Florida blueberries were selling for $28-30, and 125-gram containers were selling at $34-36.

In mid-March, flats of 12½ pint cups with lids, size medium were $14 coming through Miami.

Bocock said there was no reason to believe that prices would vary much from last year’s.

Florida’s winter got cool enough to keep the blueberries dormant so the bud sets could develop, he said. The pollination weather has been good overall.

Shippers agreed that this year should be a strong year for exports. Most Florida blueberry exports ship to Asia and Europe.

The euro’s strength against the dollar is a primary factor for the strong export market.