Marketing agents in the Chilean blueberry deal say they expect the upcoming season to continue a trend of increased volumes.

They say they expect a normal start to the deal in the latter half of October and run through mid-April.

“Fresh exports should increase by 15%, and frozen market should play a more relevant role, moving from last season’s 24% of the crop to 28% this season,” said Andres Armstrong, general manager of the Chilean Blueberry Committee, Santiago. “Growing conditions have been normal so far, and we forecast steady production growth for the next five years.”

He said Chile has about 32,000 acres of blueberries planted, but half of the acreage has not yet reached full production.

Conditions for the current crop have been good, said Keith Mixon, president of Winter Haven, Fla.-based SunnyRidge Farm Inc.

“We’re anticipating a fun year,” Mixon said. “I get frequent updates, and everything’s going very nicely down there — good weather, good production, it looks like. Everybody’s excited about what might be out there.”

Mixon said the reports he has received indicate a production volume increase of up to 20% is likely this year.

What that means for the U.S. market is hard to say, he said.

“A couple of factors are large export markets other than the U.S. and Canada and a significant frozen industry right now that’s hungry for berries,” he said. “Those two factors will give growers options for fruit out there at really competitive prices. From a price standpoint, it’s stable. It’s not higher and marginally more fruit.”

The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, started harvesting the oneil and misty varieties in northern Chile’s Ovalle Valley in mid-September, and others were to follow as the season moved south, said Nolan Quinn, berry category director.

“The crop is doing very well. It has been a good growing season with optimal weather conditions,” he said.

The first shipments of Argentine blueberries arrived at U.S. ports in early October, and Chile was expected to follow by the end of the month, said Bob Von Rohr, marketing and customer relations manager for Sunny Valley International Inc., Glassboro, N.J.

“We have a Chilean grower who will start in latter part of October,” he said. “I’m hearing the processed market is a little bit strong, but that can change quickly. We play that week by week.”

Watsonville-based California Giant, which jumped into Chile’s blueberry deal a couple of years ago, said it will bring in much more product this year than last.

“We’re expecting a good season, because we’re increasing our volume out of Chile by maybe 50%,” said Cindy Jewell, marketing director. “Each year we’re growing significantly. This is one of those big jumps.”

The Chilean deal has been “a profitable venture” for California Giant, Jewell said.

“It’s been a good deal for the consumers, with volume increasing overall,” she said. “Consumers are seeing a much greater value today than years ago.”

Prices should be steady, said Janice Honigberg, president of Washington, D.C.-based Sun Belle Inc.

“I believe they should be firmer overall this year than last because of growing demand and the frozen market, which will keep a floor on the price,” she said. “Because there’s quite a bit of frozen capacity in Chile now, and growers are very attuned to the opportunities in the frozen market, they will have an ear to the ground about pricing and will make their decisions quickly and firmly.”

Growing conditions have set up a healthy crop, as well, said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.

“I think it’s shaping up as a pretty nice crop,” he said. “There have been no significant weather events this year, so the crop will be a little bit stronger than last year.”

Some lower-than-normal temperatures in the Concordia growing region, which includes Salto, Uruguay, pushed back the start of shipments from that region slightly, said Tom Richardson, general manager of Giumarra Cos., Wenatchee, Wash.

“Since some early freezes in Tucuman, the spring has really been quite good, and fruit is harvesting now in that region,” he said. “All in all, the crop is looking quite good.”