Papaya volumes will likely be lower than normal for the foreseeable future thanks to heavy rains in Central America, importers said.

Mother Nature has put a significant dent in papaya production, and things won’t likely return to normal for some time, said Bill Brindle, vice president of sales and marketing for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals LLC.

“Rains flooded our fields in Northern Belize during August and September,” Brindle said. “Currently we’re at 50% of normal volume. New fields coming should push volumes to promotable heights by March.”

Hurricanes in Mexico also have affected production there, said Homero Levy de Barros, president of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based HLB Specialties LLC. In mid-November, HLB also was sourcing papayas from Brazil, Belize and Guatemala.

Papaya markets were sluggish heading into Thanksgiving, a not-uncommon phenomenon, but that should change in early December, de Barros said.

“As soon as the turkey and pumpkin pie goes away,” demand for papayas should pick up, he said.

HLB continues to increase its papaya volumes as it adds new growers, but de Barros acknowledged that it can be a hard crop to grow and market.

“The mentality of buyers is that papayas are a pain in the neck,” he said. “They are a strange beast. You have to find the right product, the right size, the right color for the right client.”

That said, there are more and more newcomers to the deal, adding acreage in Central America, suggesting the fruit’s growth potential, de Barros said.

On Nov. 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $16 for 30- to 35-pound cartons of tainung papayas from Belize and Guatemala, down from $18-19 last year at the same time.

Despite the production dip this fall, overall it has been a good year for papayas, said Peter Leifermann, sales director for Brooks Tropicals.

“(This year) has seen significant growth in all papaya areas,” Leifermann said.

Brooks’ Caribbean Red papaya production is up 33%, he said. And the company’s solo papaya volumes have doubled.

“We’re growing demand and finding new markets and outlets to sell in,” Leifermann said.

Brooks expects to continue that growth in 2014, though perhaps not at the high rate established in 2013, said Leifermann.

“But having obtained growth rates despite the production dip we’re currently experiencing, 2014 will be a year to watch,” he said.