Because of an unusually warm winter, buyers should expect a later start for Florida and Georgia blueberries and promotable volume for both states could begin two weeks later than usual.
In late March, growers were harvesting light volume in the southern part of Florida near Wauchula.
Plant City-based Wish Farms began harvesting light volume in mid-March but plans to start packing commercial volume on April 1 with promotable volume expected to commence by April 15, said Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations.
The delay follows an abnormally warm December and January, and February cold slowed production, he said.
The transition to Georgia, expected to begin in mid-April, should go well as Georgia also plans to start late, Koukoulis said.
He expects Florida to experience a slow season with drawn-out volume vs. a seasonal production peak.
“The quality looks really good,” Koukoulis said March 21. “The cooler weather is keeping sizing good and taste will be good. I don’t think soft fruit will be a problem this year and while Georgia will have some early berries, Georgia is about two weeks late.”
Florida growers expect to harvest through late May, longer than the typical mid-May finish, while Georgia should peak May 7, later than the state’s typical late April peak, he said.
This year, Florida should harvest around 18 million pounds, down from last season’s 25 million pounds. Wish Farms expects to pack about 2.7 million pounds, similar to last season, Koukoulis said.
Koukoulis said demand is high and because of lower production, he’s optimistic prices will remain higher longer into the season.
In late March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wasn’t reporting Florida prices and had stopped reporting prices for Chilean blueberries.
For Mexico crossings at California, Arizona and Texas, the USDA reported flats of 12 6-ounce cups with lids selling for $18-22.
Stacy Spivey, North American berry program director Miami-based Alpine Fresh, quoted $34-35 for flats of 6-ounce clamshells.
Last year in late March, the USDA reported these prices for central and north Florida: flats of 12 6-ounce clamshells medium-large were $28-34; flats of 4.4-ounce clamshells medium-large were $24-26, and cartons of 8 18-ounce containers with lids large fetched $58-62.
Though Alpine Fresh began harvesting small volume in early March, it didn’t begin running its central Florida packing line until March 18 and the machinery ran only briefly.
The warm growing season didn’t provide the bushes enough chill hours and Spivey said he expects the state to harvest light volume through early April with larger, load-volume planned to for April 15-20, about two weeks later than normal.
The emerald and jewel varieties — which account for the bulk of Florida’s production — were running one week and two- to three weeks late, respectively, he said.
Spivey said he doesn’t anticipate a production peak for Florida or Georgia and said growers were viewing damage to early-season production in Homerville, Ga., following February cold weather.
Up to a fourth of Georgia’s early crop could sustain losses and isn’t expected to bring promotable volume until May.
“In Florida, quality is great and retailers should expect light volume until April,” Spivey said in late March. “Florida will be heavy in late April and in mid- to late April, we will have two states producing. There will be some significant movement, so there will be a lot of fruit on the market which will be a good time for promotions.