The gap between the U.S. blueberry deal and the arrival of blueberries from Argentina should be minimal this year, and Argentina volume should be greater than last season.
Some growers already were shipping Argentine fruit to the U.S. in early September, and movement was expected to pick up in the coming weeks.
Volume shipped to the U.S. this year should be about 9,000 tons, similar to the 2012 season, said Ines Pelaez, manager of the Argentinean Blueberry Committee, Buenos Aires. Last year’s shipments to the U.S. totaled 7,733 tons — about 61% of the country’s volume.
Quality should be good if favorable weather continues.
The season should wind down by the end of January.
Rebound from last year
Last season was marred by late frosts and a major hailstorm that affected the main growing region in Concordia and resulted in significant fruit loss, she said.
Because of weather-related crop losses last September and early October, Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Berry Farms LLC expects to see significantly higher volume this year.
“We’re looking at a 30% to 40% increase versus last year,” said Jim Roberts, vice president of sales.
He emphasized the industrywide increase will be more in the 10% range.
Argentina had a mild winter, said Nader Musleh, executive director of the blueberry division for Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Inc. In fact, some were saying there was no winter this year, he said.
That helped the berries get off to an early start — about two weeks earlier than usual — with large sizing and good quality, he said.
California Giant expected to start shipping in mid-September.
Prices were inching upward as U.S. volume winds down, and Argentina shipments were still light, Musleh said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Sept. 4 f.o.b. prices on flats of 12 6-ounce containers of Northwest blueberries ranged from $18-20. A month earlier, prices ranged from $11-12.50.
Peru volume coming on
Peru could affect future Argentina deals, said Mike Parr, president of Team Produce International, Miami.
Last year was the first season Peru shipped commercial volume of blueberries to the U.S., competing with Argentina, he said. He expected volume from Peru to increase each year.
By 2020, that country could have about 12,000 acres of blueberries.
At Giumarra International Berry, Los Angeles, Tom Richardson, vice president for global development, said the 2014 Argentina blueberry program looks to be very strong.
Giumarra should be one of the two or three largest importers of Argentina blueberries to the North American market, he said. He expected good-quality fruit starting in mid-September, continuing through the first or second week of December.
Frank Ramos, president and CEO at The Perishable Specialist Inc., a Doral, Fla.-based customs broker, said he also anticipated a good season.
“Everyone expects bigger volume than last season,” he said, “which is always great news to us.”
With new supplies available from places like Peru, which was not selling product to the U.S. a little over a year ago, worldwide blueberry volume could double over the next four to five years, Roberts said.
Naturipe continues to increase production in Argentina even as some companies have stopped, he said.
The company is focusing on Tucaman, an early production area in the northwestern part of the country, where Naturipe is planting its proprietary Rocio variety, he said.
Tucaman produces from late July or early August until the end of October, Roberts said.
The Concordia region in the northeastern section starts harvesting shortly after Tucuman, and then the Buenos Aires area south of Concordia comes on.