(Oct. 1) U.S. berry companies will see supplies of cold-storage blueberries dwindle in mid-October, signaling a shift to berries from Chile and Argentina, which will pick up at the end of the month.

More companies are turning to the southern hemisphere for blueberries, and although Chile’s deal is more established, Argentina’s production is also rapidly increasing.

“They definitely have blueberry growing down pretty well, and there seems to be a lot of chat about growing blueberries,” said Mark Hurst, president of Sheridan, Ore.-based Hurst’s Berry Farm Inc., which has imported berries from an Argentine grower for four years.

Chile has been producing commercial blueberry crops for about 20 years; Argentina’s industry is about half that age, said Keith Mixon, general manager of Sunnyridge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla., which imports from both countries.

Sunnyridge Farm will get its first shipment from Argentina on Oct. 13, followed by Chilean blueberries in mid-November. Argentina’s season ends in December, but Chilean berries will be available until mid-March. Hurst said his company’s Chilean deal is late, from January into May.

John Shelford, president of Global Berry Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., said his company will have Chilean blueberries by the third week of October, made possible by earlier maturing varieties.

“Chile has been historically viewed as having a November start, but I think we will see them starting in mid-October on a regular basis,” Shelford said. “ … The weather this spring has been very good, and the northern fruit set is excellent.”

Even with exponentially increasing supplies available from Chile and Argentina, importers expect the market to hold steady.

As the domestic crop finishes, imported berries, traditionally shipped in 4.4-ounce clamshells at the start of the season and in 6-ounce clamshells during peak movement in January, bring an increase in f.o.b. prices.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sept. 30 reported blueberries from Washington and Oregon were $15-16 for flats of 12 6-ounce cups of the medium elliot variety and $14-15 for flats of 12 4.4-ounce cups of the medium elliots.

The first f.o.b. reports from the USDA during the 2002 season, on Nov. 4, priced flats of 4.4-ounce cups from Argentina and Chile at $36-38.

“Traditionally, we get a bump in prices, and they’re starting to go up now,” Hurst said on Sept. 29. “The offshore stuff will bring more money, because it’s a little better quality at that time. Once it’s coming in strong, retailers don’t want domestic (blueberries) anymore, so we try to be out of the way by then.”