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Hot summer throws Northwest organic berry market into a spin

Organic berries in the Pacific Northwest have experienced plenty of fluctuation this year. A heavy crop opened the season due to very warm summer conditions. As a result, plenty of berries entered the market and prices dropped. The effects of the warm summer did, however, divert more fresh berries into the frozen market, resulting in a rebound of prices because of the lack of fresh organic berries. 

"We saw very strong volume out of Eastern Washington early in the season and the market consequently became saturated," explained Michael McMillan of Bridges Organic Produce. "During the second half of July, it was very hot in the Willamette Valley in Oregon which took a lot of the mid season crop out of the market. Blueberry varieties such as Aurora, Cargo and Legacy suffered the most in the heat. Many of these berries were therefore not grade-worthy for the fresh market and were diverted to the frozen market."

McMillan added that prices for the fresh market have now rebounded due to the sudden shortage of organic berries. "The fact that a larger proportion of those berries went to the frozen market allowed for a correction in the market," he said. "Prices are now close to the average and about the same as they were at this time last year."

Varietal overview
Blackberries are the primary crop now in the Northwest, with some blueberries still around as well. Some of the regions are only just starting on berries, which are expected to go through to at least the end of September.

"We have a good crop of organic blackberries about to start up in the Skagit Valley in Washington," McMillan shared. "Chester is the main variety and will be shipped through week 39 into 40. For blueberries, there is still some Aurora out in eastern Washington as well as some Rabbiteyes commencing in Oregon. There are also some new varieties of Rabbiteye this year, including Titan and Overtime."

Some growers utilizing storage methods to broaden window
As there were so many early crop berries around at the expense of mid season berries, this provided some challenges for shippers as to how to manage their inventories. McMillan said that a number of companies are now using better storage methods. This increases the length of time the berries remain fresh, allowing shippers more time to distribute them and subsequently capture a better market.

"This year saw overall volume increase with new plantings coming online," he noted. "However, there was less availability because of the lack of mid season berries. As a result, more shippers took fruit out of the peak of the season and put it into storage to be shipped now. Some use Modified Atmosphere Packaging which allows the fruit to breathe, while others use a package that fills up with CO2. Both of these methods extend the shelf life and prolong the market window."

Still, McMillan pointed out that most domestic growers will look to exit the market by October due to the arrival of South American fruit. "There is a great awareness that Peru will be entering the organic market starting in October," he continued. "Northwest growers will make sure that most of their fruit is shipped by week 40 at the latest, because the arrival of South American fruit will make the market less attractive for domestic growers."

Expansions for Bridges Organic Produce
Bridges Organic Produce is currently undergoing several expansions. Some of these are on the growing side, while others are focused on distribution. It's a sign that the company is enjoying good growth in the organic sector.

"We have a partnership with Twin Rivers and have been shipping from a new facility in Wapato for the first time this season," McMillan shared. "Bridges will also soon be transitioning into import supplies from Argentina, Chile and Mexico for the duration of the winter as well as shortly commencing shipping out of Los Angeles. Our focus is on the year-round program and demonstrates the excellent growth we have been enjoying."

For more information:
Michael McMillan
Bridges Organic Produce
Tel: +1 (503) 235-7333

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