With worldwide demand for organically grown produce increases, buyers can expect to find larger volume of organic blueberries shipping out of Chile this season.
The Chilean Blueberry Committee estimates organic blueberry plantings represent 14% of Chile’s blueberry volume and says more areas are in the process of being certified.
“Demand for organics has grown over the years,” said Bob Von Rohr, director of customer relations for Sunny Valley International Inc., Glassboro, N.J.
Into the flow early
Sunny Valley International finds itself in an enviable position during the start of the Chilean season, he said, since the company has an organic grower in an early-producing area who can provide organic blueberries when supplies are extremely light.
“You can’t get organics out of Argentina,” which is a heavy producer of conventional blueberries at this time, he said.
The company’s early grower in Chile “gets us in the flow of things,” Von Rohr said, and gives the firm some early traction in the organic deal.
Organic blueberry volume will be up this season compared with past seasons as more conventional acres are converted to organic, said Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Naturipe Farms, Salinas, Calif.
Great place for organic
Naturipe is a major organic blueberry shipper out of Chile and increases its volume every year as demand rises, he said.
Weather and pest issues make growing organic blueberries difficult in Argentina, said Nader Musleh, executive director of the blueberry division for California Giant Berry Farms, Watsonville.
However, “Chile is a great place to grow organics,” he said.
Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group handles a small amount of organic blueberries from Chile, said Jason Fung, director of category development.
However, the company is monitoring growing areas as they receive clearance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to produce organic blueberries and is looking forward to increasing its organic program, he said.
Looking outside U.S.
The bulk of the blueberry volume in Chile is concentrated in a zone that is quarantined for U.S. shipments, so many companies are looking to develop organic markets outside of the U.S., said Brie Reiter Smith, general manager of South American operations for Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville.
“This has been a slow process for us,” she said, “but we are really committed to developing demand in other markets.”
Also, the processed price for organics has been so strong that it takes a very competitive price to persuade an organic grower in the quarantined sixth, seventh or eighth regions to ship fresh, she said.
Growers are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and with Chilean officials to get those areas cleared, Flores said.
Chile lost a lot of organic acreage in those regions when they became quarantined, he said, but other growers outside quarantine areas eventually increased their organic acreage.
“That rebalanced the amount of (organics) fruit from Chile that will be coming to North America,” he said.
More than 60% of organic plantings are in regions that need to be fumigated to arrive in the U.S. market because of the presence of the European grapevine moth, said Andres Armstrong, executive director of the Chilean Blueberry Committee, Santiago.
That means they lose their organic certification.
“The main part of this organic production had been shipped as frozen organic, maintaining their organic certification,” Armstrong said.