When you think of blueberries, Colombia might not be the first origin that comes to mind.
Most blueberries come from the US and Canada, with European nations like Germany, Poland, and France taking up other top spots, according to Hortidaily.
But Colombia may soon supply a much greater portion of the world’s blueberries. According to ProColombia, the nation’s exports promotion agency, Colombian blueberry exports rose 387% last year, signaling the arrival of the blueberry as a potential cash crop for Colombia’s growing agriculture sector.
Camilo Lozano, representative of the Asocolblue association of Colombian blueberry farmers, says the industry is being “revitalized,” going on to say that “the industry is doing quite well in the country.”
Colombia’s blueberry exports, which were virtually non-existent even at the end of 2019, reached over $1 million in 2020, despite the global pandemic and accompanying trade disruptions.
Lozano notes that, “this exponential growth is due, among other reasons, to the expansion of the acreage, the higher investment, the development of knowledge and technical assistance, and the work devoted to the opening of markets and meeting the necessary phytosanitary requirements.”
Colombia’s excellent climate and soil conditions are once again a factor in the country’s latest agricultural success story, which follows in the footsteps of other transformative industries like avocado and banana. With its wide range of altitudes and high levels of annual rainfall, Colombia is a perfect location to grow just about anything.
Colombia’s potential as an ag powerhouse is due to a unique combination of factors that affect luminosity, soil salinity, and pH levels. According to ProColombia, the nation’s exports promotion agency, the departments of Cundinamarca and Boyacá are especially well-positioned for blueberries, along with Antioquia and Quindio.
These are all highland regions, normally between 2,200 and 3,000 m above sea level. This altitude creates a unique balance of sunlight and cloud cover, and the variance in temperature between day and night produce flavors that offer a competitive advantage for blueberries and other fruits.
Colombia’s newfound success with blueberries is encouraging news for the country’s ag sector. But like with anything, Colombian blueberry growers need to be conscious of seasonal volume fluctuations and the levels of production in competing origins.
Chile, for example, grows a large volume of blueberries, and the Chilean harvest begins to enter markets around May. The commercial windows for Colombian growers to take advantage of come in the spring (around February to April), and in the winter (October to December).
Blueberry prices by month. (Source: Freshplaza)
It’s truly incredible how far the Colombian blueberry sector has come, especially considering that commercial planting began a mere six years ago. The country now has over 500 planted hectares of blueberry, and Ascolblue reports that it expects Colombia’s planted area to rise to over 1,000 hectares by the end of the year.
Colombia’s success with blueberries is not entirely unexpected. The country has made a concerted effort to improve market access and phytosanitary compliance protocols throughout the ag sector, leading to a number of new products entering foreign markets.
The upside for blueberries is much the same as it has been for other products that Colombia has become strong in, such as avocados. That is to say, the country has the climate conditions and market access to provide year-round supply, filling gaps in production from other exporters.
This ability is part of what has made Colombia’s avocado market (the most visible of Colombia’s success stories) such a huge hit in international markets. Mexico provides the bulk of the world’s avocado exports, but there are periods of the year when the climate prevents them from shipping. Colombia has been happy to fill the gaps.
But that’s not the only reason that the news about blueberries is encouraging for those keeping an eye on Colombian agriculture. Ascolblue cites another factor that will play a huge role as the country begins to take new products to market – infrastructure.
Much of the infrastructure that’s being used for blueberries was originally implemented for the country’s booming flower industry. Much of the supply chain has already been built out to suit the needs of flower growers, who currently supply millions of dollars worth of orchids, roses, and chrysanthemums to foreign markets.
Given Colombia’s achievements entering markets with new products, it’s doubtful that something like blueberries are just a one-off success story. The rise of blueberries in Colombia didn’t happen in a vacuum – it’s really part of a large-scale shift that will position the country as a powerhouse in the ag sector.
Going forward, look for Colombia to diversify its exports, especially in the fruit sector. From mango to avocado to blueberry, lime, and coconut, Colombia is a land of near-unfathomable agricultural potential. As we’re seeing from blueberries, that potential is only just beginning to be unlocked.