North America sees huge price ranges for blueberries

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North America sees huge price ranges for blueberries

Large blueberry volumes in North America have sprouted higher expectations for quality, coupled with greater price instability for some growers, particularly those with less-desired varieties or who pick in concentrated production areas. This is the view of Fall Creek Farm and Nursery manager Cort Brazelton, who says current market dynamics could bode well for incoming foreign suppliers in a few months' time, provided good consumption habits continue. Speaking with, he also looks at Europe and clarifies what U.S. approval for Moroccan blueberry imports may mean.

While a string of U.S. states have had early seasons and Michigan is quite late, Brazelton's overall message is that despite a lack of overlap unlike last year, blueberry volume has still been constantly high and market terms have been dictated by quality. shutterstock_113558638 panorama blueberries

"We've had a lot of people out in the fields and their expectations of varieties are changing...what we're we’re seeing are some of the growing pains. There is an increased packing capacity though, as packers did invest to handle a lot of the volume," he says.

"One of the things we’re seeing now is the pricing ranges for fruit is just huge. There are programs out there right now at pretty reasonable prices for peak season, and there’s a lot of uncommitted fruit coming from places with a lot of volume – especially British Columbia – that are notably lower.

"I've also heard a lot of comments from a lot of people that while volumes have been high and prices lower, we haven’t necessarily seen that reflected in retail prices throughout the country, and some wonder if that will impact movement."

When it comes to varieties, Brazelton says while the Duke variety is still popular, it has high production concentration in British Columbia where there is less capacity to receive so much fruit. He adds the Canadian province has also witnessed significant plantings of Bluecrop blueberries - a variety that has fallen somewhat out of favor.

"There will be lots of fruit moving through the market through the next two weeks, but remember we’re in the Northern Hemisphere at higher latitudes and the days start to get considerably shorter.

"And because all these mid-to-late varieties like Liberty are finishing now, and finishing early, there's going to be a lot less volume."

When asked whether this will be positive for Southern Hemisphere suppliers like Argentina, Mexico or Peru, Brazelton says what's more important is the fact volume has been abundantly available to consumers, which could have flow-on effects .

"That tends to facilitate a lot of high demand and high consumption, assuming they have a positive experience," he says.

"In two to three weeks from now, the volumes will be lower but the habits of buying and eating a lot of blueberries can act favorably if there's going to be continued supply.

"In the second half of August or September, if there's good fruit from Argentina, Mexico and Peru, along with late season fruit from Michigan and the Pacific Northwest, the demand will be there because the habits of heavy consumption are there."

European outlook

He says suppliers can also see good potential in Europe in a few months from now, where similarly strong consumption trends have been seen. This will not only shows promise to be a boon for Argentina, Mexico and Peru, but also early season growers from Chile and South African exporters.

"This year the traditional growing countries of Europe such as France, the Netherlands and Germany were very early and their seasons overlapped with the end of Spain, and that got a little messy there in June and in early July.

"But now that that deal cleaned up, movement is reportedly pretty good, although we are in Polish season with peak volume in Europe.

"Reports are that consumption continues to grow, demand continues to pick up in a lot of new and existing markets, and the European deal looks on track to clean up as well in two to three weeks."

Response to U.S. access for Moroccan blueberries

One country that has benefited from strong European blueberry demand is Morocco, although during a different time period to other countries mentioned outside the sphere of North America and the European Union.

"It's not a huge deal but it is reflecting the growth in Europe, and what characterizes it is larger consolidated international players focused on serving quality fruit to the European market, and focused on a differentiated specialized product to offer a consistent flow of fruit from that transition between the Southern Hemisphere deal and the Northern Hemisphere deal," he says.

"Market access to the U.S. could be a valuable outlet for their tiny volume of fruit today, but there's really no competitive play in exporting by boat, airfreight is very expensive and the European market is really the market that puts value on the differentiated product they're producing."

Brazelton claims APHIS' assessment of when Morocco's export season takes place was incorrect, but the fact they have opened access is positive for the international blueberry sector.

"The USDA said they’ll produce in July and August. They missed it by about six months. Morocco is an early deal in the late winter and spring," he says.

"It's wonderful to see growing trade between Morocco and the United States, and it'd be a wonderful novelty to see some Moroccan blueberries in the U.S. but I wouldn’t anticipate any real volume to speak of coming from Morocco.

"More fruit was picked before lunch today in the state of Oregon than Morocco grows in a year."

Brazelton says he would be shocked if Morocco does ship the 360,000 pounds per year expected under the new arrangement, but would be happily surprised if they do.

"Morocco, if it comes to the U.S. and Canada, would have to compete with Mexico and Florida," he says.

"Morocco is not a viable competitive threat to the state of Florida or to Mexico, but opening the U.S. market to Morocco is a great example of a willingness to allow open competition in an increasingly global blueberry industry.

"If there was a shortage in Florida and they had a terrible freeze, there would at least be another supply option. That’s probably good, but if I were a Florida grower or a Mexican grower, I would not be worried about this."



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