Freezes delay Florida, Georgia blueberry deals

04/09/2009 02:00:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

Workers at SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla., pack blueberries in mid-April. Shippers say a later start and higher prices are in store for Florida blueberries, and freeze damage in Georgia could prolong Florida’s marketing window.

Courtesy SunnyRidge Farm Inc.

Buyers should expect a later start — and higher prices — for Florida’s blueberries.

After freeze damage in Georgia, some Florida grower-shippers also said they expect a little longer marketing window.

Central and southern Florida shipments began in smaller volumes in late March and early April, and growers quoted $30-32 f.o.b.s for flats of 12 4.4-ounce clamshells in mid-April.

Growers also expected a smooth transition from Chilean to domestic fruit.

Keith Mixon, president and chief executive officer of SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla., on April 7 said central Florida’s production in the Bartow and Haines City areas was about 25% under way. At the same time, packinghouses in northern Florida near Gainesville were expected to start in late April, a week later than commencement of central Florida’s volume.

Fewer Chilean shipments

Mixon said Chilean shippers had for the most part finished their U.S. shipments by the second week of April and that the deal didn’t have any inventories of hilean fruit.

During the last week of March, Chilean shippers sent 63 tons of blueberries to the U.S., versus 164 tons last year during the same week, Mixon said.

He said recent large processor inventories, which followed high berry prices, would likely soon dissipate with more competitive pricing.

For central and northern Florida, the U.S. Department of Agriculture April 6 reported flats of 12 4.4-ounce cups with lids medium-large selling for $26-30. For Chilean arrivals at the ports of Miami and Los Angeles, flats of 12 6-ounce cups with lids medium sold for $22-24 while flats of 12 4.4-ounce cups with lids medium sold for $18-20.

Last year, in early April, those 4.4-ounce clamshells sold for $18-22.

Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC’s Grand Junction, Mich., office, said Chile didn’t encroach into the Florida deal this season as much as it did last year, and that the market was seeing much less volume in early April than last year, when vessels arrived through April 14.

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