Far different from the past, buying fresh blueberries in the United States around this time of the year and through the winter is now made possible by increased imports from Southern Hemisphere producers, primarily Chile and Argentina.

Most of the blueberries from Argentina enter the U.S. market during the fall months while supplies from Chile, although partly overlapping with Argentina’s late season, peak around January and February. Early reports from industry indicate that U.S. blueberry import volumes are expected to increase from both these countries for this shipping season, providing ample promotional supplies for retailers especially by early next year when Chile is expected to have a heavy presence.

Based on AMS shipment data, cumulative import volume from Argentina from early October through the second week of November was 25 percent larger than the same time last year. At the start of the season around the second week in October, free-on-board (f.o.b.) shipping-point prices for Argentine blueberries entering through Miami International Airport ranged from $38-$42 per flat of 12, 4.4-oz cups with lids (medium-large). With increasing supplies, prices by month’s end had weakened to $16-$18 and further declined to $12-$15 by the second week in November. Late October f.o.b. prices last year were higher at $26-$32 per flat and $20-$24 in early November due to lower-than-expected supplies caused by heavy rains during the harvest time.

At the retail level, fresh blueberry advertised prices in October averaged $3.69 per 4.4-ounce package, compared with $2.95 in October 2009, based on AMS data. With increasing supplies and with some volume coming in from Chile, prices over the first two weeks in November declined to $2.32, down from the previous month and down from a $2.52 average the same time last year.

A combination of favorable weather over the growing period and increased acreage has led to a significant increase in production this year in Chile. Chile is a much bigger supplier of imported fresh blueberries to the United States, shipping more than four times the volume imported from Argentina, on average, over the past two years. Beginning in 2007, Chile gained the rank as the No. 1 supplier of fresh blueberries to the United States, surpassing the previous leader, Canada.

Over the past couple of years, Chile has supplied over half the total fresh blueberries imported in the United States. Blueberries from Canada are available here in the U.S. market during the summer when domestic production is at its peak.

With very light supplies arriving in mid-October, cumulative import volume from Chile for this season through the second week of November lagged by about 27 percent those of the same time last year. Cool weather in late September and early October slowed maturity of Chile’s blueberry crop, delaying their shipping season by about a week to 10 days. Chilean supplies are expected to increase seasonally in the coming weeks, likely driving down blueberry prices this winter.