Florida blueberries running late, small supplies driving demand

04/23/2014 04:18:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

Craig Underhill, director of sales for Clear Springs Packing LLC in Bartow, Fla., displays some clamshells of blueberries in late April.Doug OhlemeierCraig Underhill, director of sales for Clear Springs Packing LLC in Bartow, Fla., displays some clamshells of blueberries in late April. Florida is experiencing lighter than normal production and buyers should expect high volumes of late spring blueberries as Florida overlaps with the start of Georgia volume. BARTOW, Fla. — Buyers should expect high volumes of late spring blueberries as delayed Florida volume hits the market.

Florida berries are expected to overlap with Georgia’s volume in through May 23, said Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.

While Florida growers were hoping to pack up to 25 million pounds, as of April 21 they’d harvested 3.59 million pounds, compared to 11.48 million pounds at the same time last year, he said.

A lack of winter chill hours and cooler than normal spring nights delayed Florida production up to two weeks, Flores said.

“Demand is exceeding supply and all the shippers I’ve heard about are either sold-out or oversold as pricing is mimicking the market levels you’d expect to see for Argentinean fruit when the last North American production leaves Michigan and the Northwest,” he said April 23. “It’s that high price-low supply situation on this side of the deal as well as there not being much overlap between Chile and Florida.”

With a later crop, Georgia should provide abundant supplies through the Fourth of July, Flores said.

Workers grade and pack blueberries in late April at Clear Springs Packing LLC in Bartow, Fla. High demand is sending prices higher as Florida growers harvest lower than normal volume.Doug OhlemeierWorkers grade and pack blueberries in late April at Clear Springs Packing LLC in Bartow, Fla. High demand is sending prices higher as Florida growers harvest lower than normal volume. Seasonal prices are higher than last year.

In late April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported these prices for central and north Florida: flats of 4.4-ounce clamshells medium-large, $23-28 and flats of 12 6-ounce clamshells medium-large at $26-30.

Last year in late April, the USDA reported those berries selling for $17 and $22 respectively.

Craig Underhill, director of sales for Clear Springs Packing LLC, said prices are about 30% higher than last season.

He reported strong demand.

“Supplies extremely light now and we have had a tight season,” Underhill said April 23. “We are about 2.5 weeks behind what we should be compared to last year and we don’t anticipate any monster peak. Quality overall is outstanding and we expect a steady program for the course of our season. It’s strictly a supply issue for us.”

While Florida typically finishes harvesting by mid-May, Underhill said he expects harvesting to run through early June.

Florida’s production is bunching up toward the end of the deal because winter and spring weather prompted a slower than normal fruit release, he said.

Georgia typically begins harvesting southern highbush fruit in mid- to late April.

On April 21, growers started light harvesting of fruit in the Homerville, Ga., region, Flores said.


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