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Cooperative effort unites blueberry industry in Argentina

by Tad Thompson | October 28, 2010
ORLANDO, FL — The Argentinean Blueberry Committee was created this spring in a cooperative effort by the country's five leading exporters.

Ines Pelaez, manager of the new committee, was a guest speaker at the Oct 15 Chilean fruit meeting that was held here in conjunction with the 2010 PMA Fresh Summit. Ms. Pelaez and Chilean interests both emphasized that the Argentine and Chilean blueberry interests are complementary because Argentina precedes Chile into the market each fall.

According to charts provided by the Argentinean Blueberry Committee, Argentina ships its earliest blueberries in week 39 (late September). Argentina’s blueberry exporting peak is about weeks 42-47, which run from mid-October until mid-November. This shipping peak then gives way to Chile’s blueberry export peak, which runs into late February.

Eighty-six percent of Argentina’s blueberries were exported to the United States in 2009-10. Eighty-two percent of Chile’s blueberry exports went to the United States last season.

Argentina first exported blueberries in 2003-04, with 845 metric tons. There has been steady growth since, with 12,535 metric tons exported in 2009-10. Ms. Pelaez expects Argentine blueberry production this season to be about equal to last year.

There have been bad freezes in the Argentine blueberry industry over the last two years, which significantly affected production, she said. In the future, "Production will rise, but not at the rate of before. After two bad years, growers are not replanting in the short term, but greater efficiency" in production “may help.”

Argentina has three primary blueberry-producing provinces. Concordia, which is basically along the country’s northern coast, has 38 percent of Argentina’s blueberry acreage. Tucuman, in northwestern Argentina, has 34 percent of the acreage. Buenos Aires province on the central coast, which occupies much of Argentina’s north-central sector, accounts for 22 percent of the acreage. Other production areas account for 6 percent. In total, Argentina has about 8,800 acres of blueberry production.

In 2009, the blueberry industries in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina launched a European market promotion, “Blueberries from the South.”

Ms. Pelaez told The Produce News that shipments to Europe mostly go by air, but methyl bromide fruit fly treatments required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for shipments bound for the U.S. market shorten the berry shelf life, thus making air freight more important.

Carolina Salvetti, commercial manager of the transportation freight forwarder Jet Cargo, based in Buenos Aires, said that historically about 90-95 percent of Argentina’s blueberries have gone to the United States by air. But air-freight costs, which were $1.75 per kilo last year, started at $2.10 in October 2010. This may result in more fruit making the 18-to-20-day ocean transit to Philadelphia or New York this fall.

Ms. Salvetti said that Jet Cargo originally was involved only in air freight but has expanded to ocean freight over the last 15 years. The firm has offices in Chile and Uruguay.

The Argentinean Blueberry Committee’s five exporter-members are Agroberries de Argentina, Berries Del Plata S.A., Hortifrut de Argentina S.A., SunBelle S.A. and TechnoVital S.A. These firms represent about 60-70 percent of Argentina’s blueberry exports.

“We were working hard for the last three years without forming an entity,” Ms. Pelaez noted.

The committee’s mission “is to bring together the efforts of exporter firms with the objective of adjusting the local industry’s standards and conditions to current international market requirements of quality and continuity of supply, [and] cooperating for the benefit of the sector at large.”