Mexico: An Emerging Power in the Blueberry Market

Blueberry is a relatively new crop for Mexico. The Mexican blueberry production capacity was mostly built over the past 10 years. The acreage of blueberries grown in Mexico broke records almost every year over 2009-2018. In 2018, the planted and harvested acreages reached 9,357 and 8,923 acres, respectively, almost 20 and 19 times higher than those in 2009 (Figure 1). As a result, Mexican blueberry production increased from 4 million pounds in 2009 to 89 million in 2018. Blueberries are grown in 10 states of Mexico, with the major production concentrated in Central Mexico, including Jalisco, Michoacán, and Sinaloa, which are also the major strawberry production states. The national average yield was 9,948 pounds per acre (lb/acre) in 2018. Sinaloa ranked the highest, with an average of yield of 16,059 lb/acre, which was almost 4 times that in Florida. The Mexican blueberry season covers the period from September through June, peaking between February and May, which overlaps the production window of Florida blueberries. 

Interest in producing organic blueberries has also grown in Mexico because of increasing demand from international markets. Organic blueberry production in Mexico began in 2014, with only 30 bearing acres. By 2018, organic blueberry acreage had increased to 326 acres. Total organic production increased from 0.25 million pounds in 2013/14 to 2 million pounds in 2017/18 (from September to next June). With premium-quality fruit netting high market prices, organic blueberry prices for Mexican growers in 2018 were three times higher than prices for conventional blueberries. 

Figure 1. Mexican Blueberry Acreage, 2009 to 2018

Source: SIAP, Mexico

U.S.-Mexico Blueberry Trade

The vast majority of Mexican blueberries are exported to international markets. North America is the main export market for Mexican blueberries; Europe and Asia lag far behind (less than 3%). The United States continues to be the largest importing country of Mexican blueberries. According to the US Census Bureau, the United States imported 76 million pounds of fresh blueberries in 2019, accounting for 19% of total US fresh blueberry imports, compared to 0.79 million pounds in 2009 (Figure 2). March, April, and May are the major months for US importing Mexican blueberries, and the imports during these three months accounted for 56% of total imports of Mexican blueberries in 2019. These three months are also the production window for Florida blueberries. In 2018, the U.S. imported 35 million lbs of Mexican blueberries from March to May, while during the same period Florida produced only 20.5 million lbs blueberries (Figure 2). Due to its proximity to the United States, Mexican blueberries shipped by truck arrive fresh and good-quality, making Mexico a major competitor for the Florida blueberry industry. The Mexican blueberry industry pays close attention to the diversification of its markets. The Mexican blueberry industry can ship blueberries to Europe within 22 days and to Asia within 15 days. In the past six years, the number of destinations of Mexican blueberries has almost doubled, increasing from 18 to 30 countries.

Besides conventional blueberries, Mexico also exported organic blueberries to the United States. In the 2018 calendar year, Mexico exported 5.4 million pounds, nearly 10 times the volume of the previous year. The volume further increased to 15 million pounds in 2019. As a result, Mexico became the second largest source, after Chile, of organic blueberry imports in the U.S. market. Large shipment volume drove import prices down from $5.83 per pound in 2018 to $3.97 per pound in 2019. The major organic shipment window from Mexico is November and December, followed by the period January to April.   

Figure 2. U.S. Blueberry Imports from Mexico and Florida Production 

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of Agriculture 

Factors Driving Industry Growth

There are several factors driving the development of the Mexican blueberry industry. The first is the promotion of protected technology by the Mexican government. High tunnel and shade house technologies are the major protected technologies used to produce blueberries in Mexico. Under these protected structures, growers can produce safe, quality products and can extend their growing season. The Mexican government has been subsidizing protected cultivation. The subsidy rate in 2014 for high tunnels was 200,000 pesos (US $14,451) per hectare and a maximum amount of 2.7 million pesos (US$0.2 million) per project, and for shade houses, 300,000 pesos (US $21,676) per hectare and up to 2.7 million pesos per project. Due to these favorable policies, there was a major shift from open-field production to production under protected structures. According to SAGARPA, open-field and protected-culture acreages were 6,289 and 198 acres, respectively, in 2015, but changed to 3,289 and 4,635 acres, respectively, in 2016 (Figure 3).

The second factor is the high profitability of this crop, attracting growers to switch from other berries/crops to blueberries. Mexico produces and ships in the months of higher blueberry prices and has low labor costs. In 2019, the average wage of farmworkers in Mexico was 225.57 pesos per day (for a 10-hour workday), equivalent to 1.2 U.S. dollars per hour. For comparison, the adverse effect wage rate paid to H-2A workers by Florida blueberry growers was $11.24 perhour in 2019 while the average wage is even higher. The cost summary reported by the Trusts Established in Relation to Agriculture in Mexico shows that the costs of blueberry production under protected structures in Michoacán region were 622,981 pesos per hectare (US $13,097 per acre) for the 2019/2020 season. Among them, growers incurred 106,750 pesos for harvesting 12 metric tons of blueberries, equivalent to $0.21 per pound harvested, while Florida growers incurred $1.96 per pound of harvesting and marketing costs. The competitive advantages in production/labor costs give the Mexican blueberry industry a great boost. The profitability of this crop has attracted investment from both local and foreign companies. We expect that the blueberry industry in Mexico will continue to increase in the future.  

Figure 3. Mexican Blueberry Acreage under Different Production Technologies

Source: SIAP, Mexico


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