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Analyst: This year’s produce season is ‘slowest in years’

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Analyst: This year’s produce season is ‘slowest in years’
Freshly cut iceberg lettuce heads, which are packaged into boxes directly in the fields, are loaded onto trucks for shipping, in the Salinas Valley of central California.

WASHINGTON — July refrigerated spot rates may not make their traditional seasonal peak this July, even though volumes are showing some gains.

USDA data shows that national weekly truckload volumes (domestic and imported) are down 22% y/y and the lowest since 2017, wrote DAT Freight and Analytics Principal Analyst Dean Croke in a recent blog posting.

Imported produce volumes, including blueberries from Mexico, are down by 2% y/y, while total imports from Canada are up 31% y/y, Croke reported.

“Even though U.S. blueberries are grown in 13 states, around 28% of consumer demand is met through imports from Mexico, Chile, and Peru over the winter, with the transition from imported to domestic strawberries peaking between April and August each year. Typically, around 46% of the annual volume is shipped during this five-month season,” according to Croke.

Berries are generally in season from spring through summer, and some go into fall, with each state having a slightly different berry season.

According to Kevin Schooley, executive director of the North American Strawberry Growers Association, “Besides the highly shippable berries from California and Florida, berries are a particularly regional product sold not far from where they’re grown. In many cases, the varieties grown from anywhere that’s not Florida or California are not of a post-harvest quality built for shipping long distances.”

Croke wrote that data from the USDA shows just over 37% of annual blueberry production comes from California, followed by the Pacific Northwest (25%) and Florida (8%), so the vast majority of blueberry production does indeed travel long distances to market.

“July is also peak harvest time for growers in Hammonton, New Jersey, the self-proclaimed ‘blueberry capital of the world,’ where the harvest generally begins in early June and ends by late July,” wrote Croke.

“New Jersey growers accounted for just over 40% of monthly blueberry volume in May and June last year, followed by California (20%) and Mexico (30%). While carriers and brokers see substantial blueberry volumes in cross-border and port markets in winter, truckload carriers will move around 27,000 truckloads of blueberries nationally over the next few months, with New Jersey growers shipping around 23% of monthly volume or an average of 6,200 truckloads to national consumer markets.”

According to the U.S Highbush Blueberry Council, New Jersey has approximately 10,149 acres of blueberries (bearing and nonbearing acres) and around 270 farms.

This represents just over 9% of the total national blueberry acreage.

According to Anthony DiMeo, a fourth-generation blueberry farmer at DiMeao Farms in Hammonton, blueberry farmers take pride in the area’s history. His great grandfather started his farm in 1916, emigrated from Italy in 1910, and began to plant blueberries in South Jersey on just 35 acres. Over a century later, they now grow up to 1,000 acres of blueberries every year.

“All of the blueberries that you see today, grown worldwide, started right here in the New Jersey Pine Barrens,” DiMeo said. “It has good drainage because it’s sandy soil, has a low pH, and has acidity. So, those are the three conditions that blueberry bushes like; that’s what makes this area unique for growing blueberries.”

To celebrate the short yet profitable season, in Hammonton, some 270 growers hold the annual Red, White & Blueberry Festival in conjunction with the local chamber of commerce. This year the festival is scheduled for June 26th with lots to celebrate – blueberry volumes are up 16.7% compared to last year.

The Trucker News Staff

The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only TheTrucker.com, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only TheTrucker.com, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.
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