The 2012 California avocado crop will be bigger and last longer than last year’s, grower-shippers say, and about the only downside is that lack of rain might result in slightly smaller fruit.

This year’s forecast is 400 million pounds, according to the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission. That’s up significantly from last year’s 300 million pounds. And many growers expect the total to be even higher — in the range of 415 million pounds, said Jan DeLyser, the commission’s vice president of marketing.

Large California avocado crop could last into SeptemberThe increased supply likely will mean that plenty of avocados will be available until mid-September, she said.

The early harvest was light, and supplies aren’t expected to reach significant levels until April, said Doug Meyer, vice president of sales and marketing for West Pak Avocado Inc., Temecula, Calif.

“The fruit size is progressing nicely, and the overall quality is expected to be very good, with a low percentage of No. 2s,” he said in late February.

“The first large-scale promotion will be for Cinco de Mayo, followed by peak volume and good promotion opportunities from May through July,” he said.

Surveying other avocado sources, Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and fresh marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., said in February that production in Mexico has been stronger than predicted for more than three months as a result of a late start.

Growers made sure maturity levels were good before harvesting, he said.

Although post-Super Bowl shipments were down some, he said Mexico will continue to be strong into spring and the Cinco de Mayo period.

Chilean shipments began to decline after mid-February, but were expected to continue until late March.

Avocados also will come in from Peru this summer, said Phil Henry, president of Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif. But so far, demand has kept up with foreign and domestic supplies.

No single country controls the market, said Steve Taft, president and chief executive officer at Eco-Farms Corp., Temecula. If there’s a shortage from one source, other countries typically step in and fill the gap.

Index Fresh Inc., Bloomington, Calif., started harvesting some fruit in mid-January to provide avocados for customers who wanted California fruit for their Super Bowl parties, said president Dana Thomas.

As of late February, quality was good, and sizing was larger than normal. But some other shippers said sizing may be smaller than usual, especially for early fruit, because of lack of rain.

Last year, Southern California had near record rainfall, but as of February, precipitation was about half of normal.

A dry winter can impact the industry in two ways, Wedin said.

“The sizing will more than likely be smaller than we’d like it to be, and the growers’ costs definitely are going to be higher,” he said. That’s because they will have to irrigate with water that is becoming increasingly expensive.

“We do see fairly good size, and we do believe that we’re going to have a great season,” Wedin said. “But it is a little disappointing when you don’t get rain, and you’re in the agricultural business.”

Irrigation never is as good as rain, which does a good job of leeching salts out of the soil, Thomas said.

The impact of a dry year may not be felt for two or three years, he added. It could affect future sets by making the trees less vigorous

Lack of rain also could cause a slower start than usual for the California crop, said Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif. But he said quality should be good, and volume should be strong by late March.

At Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc. in Fallbrook, Calif., growers were just starting to get into the fields in mid-February, and partner Bob Lucy expected good production in March and April.

“The crop looks excellent,” he said, and he anticipates a good year for promotions.

“We’re very excited about the programs that the Avocado Commission has set up, and we think it’s going to be a great year for California growers,” he said.