(Aug. 29) An upstart Florida blueberry grower-shipper is converting a former juice processing plant into a packing shed to help it expand into packing other commodities.

Clear Springs Co., Bartow, Fla., bought the old Bartow processing plant from Florida’s Natural Growers on Aug. 1.

This spring, Clear Springs began operations by planting its own blueberry bushes. The company plans to ship and pack its own and other growers’ berries next spring.

Though blueberries remain Clear Springs’ core product, the company plans to expand into strawberry growing and shipping. It also intends to pack bell peppers, cucumbers and melons for other central Florida growers, said Jerry D’Amore, Clear Springs’ vice president.

Clear Springs expects to ship 50,000 pounds of its own blueberries during its first season. For strawberries, it plans to ship 100,000 crates.

D’Amore said it was too early to predict how many boxes of bell pepper, cucumbers and melons Clear Springs would ship next spring.

Clear Springs, the agricultural division of its parent development company Clear Springs Enterprises LLC, began operations in February. The agricultural division is headed by two berry marketing veterans who formerly worked for Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc.

D'Amore, who came aboard in February, had been vice president and general manager of Driscoll’s blueberry business group. In March, Sue Harrell, who had been Driscoll’s longtime Dover, Fla.-based East Coast operations manager, joined Clear Springs as director of produce operations.

D’Amore said he sees a lot of opportunity in packing for area growers who can’t pack, store and move their 50-90 acres of cover crops.

This season, which starts in December, Clear Springs plans to sell a small amount of strawberries through an arrangement with a Plant City, Fla., grower who has 40 acres under contract. The company expects to expand into its own strawberry acreage by December 2007, D’Amore said.

Clear Springs plans to have the packinghouse operational in March, ahead of the April start of Florida’s short blueberry window.