Complex season means new markets for Chilean blueberries

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Complex season means new markets for Chilean blueberries

Despite a series of complications this season, Chile has been able to expand its blueberry business in Europe and Asia. The combined blow of spring frosts, Lobesia botrana detection and a port strike, however, has meant a different sales scenario in the U.S. and Canada.blueberries_small

Chilean Blueberry Committee manager Andrés Armstrong spoke with about the factors that have drug down North American shipments and encouraged sales elsewhere.

Overall, shipments from Chile have dropped 20%  in comparison with last season. As of week five, total export volume was at 54,762MT. By season's end, Armstrong said Chile now expects to export 30% less in blueberries than originally estimated.

The drop equates to a 30% decline in shipments to the U.S. and Canada - markets that account for about two-thirds of Chile's blueberry export business.

To date, however, European and Asian volume has grown 14% and 30%, respectively. Much of this growth has resulted from the necessity to redirect shipments once planned for the U.S.

Armstrong explained that complications with U.S. shipments began with unseasonal frosts that damaged plantations in September.

"It has been a very atypical season - although we have already said that in previous years. The season was affected, first off, by the frosts in September, which made us review our production estimates by 10%," Armstrong said.

Detection of the European Grapevine Moth, Lobesia botrana, in December further complicated Chilean shipments to the U.S., which now requires fumigation as a phytosanitary precaution.

"Notification arrived from the USDA on Dec. 24 demanding fumigation at the place of origin for fresh blueberries from Chile's regions VI, VII and VIII with destination to the U.S. This kept shipments low to that market until fumigation upon arrival was approved," he said.

"Effectively, this has been a situation in which businesses have had to adapt to the new reality and that takes time. Initially, fumigation at origin practically stop sea freight to the U.S.

"Later, once fumigation was approved upon arrival, it also required adaptation, in addition to the impact it has on fruit quality."

In addition to January's port strike, these new pest requirements have forced Chile to resort to more air shipments to the U.S. this season.

In the year to come, Armstrong said a top priority will be to adopt a new strategy to address Lobesia botrana and elminate the currently imposed quarantine zones, which represent around 70% of Chile's production.

"We need to continue working on the quality and image of our blueberries in Chile. This means continued work on promotions and market development, which this season has proven important due to the need for alternative markets," Armstrong said.


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