With April has come a big increase in volumes of Florida blueberries, said Lee Cobb, vice president of business development for North American blueberries for Salinas, Calif.-based Colorful Harvest LLC.
“Two weeks ago we were harvesting very little, and last week it exploded,” Cobb said April 13. “And we expect it to increase a bit this week. It’s coming on hard.”
Peak volumes in Florida will likely last into the week of April 20 before starting to taper off, Cobb said. Afternoon rains the week of April 13 were curtailing crews’ ability to pick.
“About one-third of my growers had to shut down early today,” Cobb said April 13.
Florida should have ample supplies of blueberries through the week of April 20, said Mike Bowe, vice president of Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc., Coral Springs, Fla.
“The weather’s been outstanding, so the supply is good.”
Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms was shipping from Georgia and California in mid-April, said Jerry Connery, the company’s blueberry category manager.
Rains in Georgia were delaying harvests the week of April 13. If volumes drop because of the bad weather, it could give East Coast markets a much-needed boost, Connery said.
“It’s definitely a two-tiered market right now,” Connery said, citing $4 to $10 dollar per-box differences between California and the Southeast in the first half of April.
California production should start to peak May 1-4 for Cal Giant, Connery said. If the Georgia rains don’t significantly curtail production there, Georgia product could come west and weaken California markets, he said.
Big volumes out of Florida — Cobb said industry-wide shipments could be 5 to 7 million pounds above last season — combined with lingering import volumes were putting a lid on markets in the first half of April.
“It’s been a very strange season so far,” Cobb said. “The Chilean fruit hanging around has not helped Florida.”
On April 14, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $24-26 for flats of 12 6-ounce cups of medium and large Florida blueberries, down from $30-36 last year at the same time. Markets should strengthen soon, though, as the Chilean pipeline clears and Georgia gets off to a late start, Cobb said.
“We might get a little bounce in prices.”
In addition to the late-season Chilean product, the unseasonably cold, snowy weather in the Northeast kept demand for early Florida fruit lower than usual, Bowe said.
Because of freeze damage in Georgia, volume shipments won’t start to hit until late April or early May, Cobb said. And while the biggest effect will be on timing, the freezes also will likely cause some volume loss in Georgia, he said.
Dave’s Specialty Imports expects to transition from Florida to Georgia in early May, Bowe said. That will be followed by deals in the Carolinas, New Jersey, Michigan, Oregon and British Columbia.
Georgia’s freeze losses could be offset by an expected 20% increase in acreage this year, Bowe said.
“It could wind up being similar to last year.”