Blueberry production south of the border

Labor issues and high production costs in the U.S. have stimulated the interest of blueberry production in Mexico. Cheaper transport cost and shorter distance are highly attractive incentives to produce blueberries in Mexico.

Mexican growers are planting increased acreage of raspberries and blackberries, and are starting to plant blueberries in small scale. Transport costs from Mexico to the United States are one-fourth to one-fifth the cost from Argentina or Chile, according to Mark Gaskell from Small Farms and Specialty Crops Advisor UCCE Santa Barbara County. This, combined with fresher fruit as compared to South American ones, is a highly attractive incentive to produce blueberries in Mexico. An added bonus to the shorter distance of travel is that the fruit from Mexico may have an additional one to two days of shelf-life.

Problems related to labor and high production costs in the United States have stimulated the interest of blueberry production south of the borders, more precisely in Mexico. For several years, international companies that market and produce blueberries worldwide have seen Mexico as a potential place for production for both the Mexican market and for exporting into the United States. Among those companies, Driscoll’s, SunnyRidge Farms, Vital Berry Marketing and Fall Creek Nursery are already established in central Mexico where they are combining raspberry and blackberry production with blueberries. Although the harvested acreage is still small (less than three thousand acres), there are already plans for planting an additional 2,500 acres during 2011-2012. The major producer so far, SunnyRidge Farms, started its blueberry production in 2007 in 370 acres located in the state of Jalisco.

According to Joe Barsi from the Business Development at California Giant Berry Farms, Mexico will be a significant player in fresh blueberry production in the future. Companies farming blueberries in Mexico are targeting the April-May production window, which is the production window between South America and North America.

Since Mexico is closer to the U.S. berry market than any other country, there is an incentive to bring fresher fruit from south of the border at a lower shipping cost. At present time, the Fall Creek Nursery has successfully tested a collection of varieties that are giving very good results in Chihuahua. The collection includes Northern Highbush and Southern Highbush varieties. There is also great interest on the part of some Chilean companies to take advantage of Mexico as a large market opportunity.

Blueberry production started several years ago in the state of Puebla (central Mexico), where rabbit eye varieties have prospered with good climate and soil. The state of Michoacán in southwest Mexico is another place where blueberries are prospering alongside Mexico’s current, most important berry crop of blackberries. Driscoll’s is the main international company exporting berries out of Michoacán. Since 2003, Driscoll’s Mexico operation is providing a critical link to delivering a year-round strawberry and raspberry program for Driscoll’s foodservice customers.

Lately, two Mexican states have been singled out by berry companies as potential sites for expanding blueberries in Mexico. Jalisco and Chihuahua have the greatest potential for becoming the largest blueberry production sites in Mexico. Chihuahua is the state with the biggest potential since the main apple growing region of Mexico is located in the area comprised by the Valleys of Cuauhtémoc, Guerrero and Bachiniva. More than 80 percent of all apples produced in Mexico are produced in these valleys. Growers have the infrastructure and the “know how” to star right away with a new crop. And, blueberries are a very good option to replace old apple orchards.

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