Freeze to cut further into Chilean avocado volume

09/15/2010 01:47:36 PM
Jim Offner

In months leading up to the upcoming Chilean avocado harvest, U.S. suppliers were expecting a relatively lean crop.

Now, after a sustained freeze in July, they’re setting their sights even lower.

Chile’s National Federation of Fruit Producers said in late July that the cold touched as much as 40% of orchards.

Suppliers in the U.S. already had been expecting volumes to be 20% below last year’s take of more than 215 million pounds. Now, they say, they are expecting a decrease of another 10% to 15%.

In some years, that might be a dire scenario, as far as prospective winter volumes in the U.S. go; not this year, however.

“They have planned to hold off due to California’s large crop,” said Dave Culpeper, import/export director with West Pak Avocado Inc., Temecula, Calif. “The market has plenty of avocados right now.”

Chile’s crop is running late, though, he said.

“They’re due to come in by late September or the first of October, and the volume is such that it will probably last only into the middle to end of February, so it’s kind of a reduced season,” Culpeper said.

California will finish up with about 470 million pounds this year — well short of the record of more than 600 million pounds in 2006.

But there’s still ample supply to ease the transition into the Chilean season when that starts to peak, said Jim Donovan, vice president of global sourcing at Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc. and chairman of the Irvine, Calif.-based Hass Avocado Board.

“The freeze itself doesn’t look overwhelming like the last one, but on top of a short crop, it doesn’t help,” Donovan said. “The good news is even after all that, it’s still one of the larger crops that they’ll end up having. New groves are coming on. It’s not anywhere near a crop failure — just less than last year.”

Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc. has had to revise its expectations, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing.

“We had originally thought we’d start around Aug. 15 but we changed that to Sept. 15 with the first arrivals,” Wedin said. “We think our first significant arrivals will be the first of October.”

In a normal year, big volumes start to arrive around Labor Day, Wedin noted.

Wedin also said California’s large crop will ease the transition.

“I think the large California crop may be the driver,” he said. “Last week (ending Aug. 14), they got their second-largest shipment in, at 20 million pounds for the week.”

Therefore, Chilean growers and shippers can catch a break, Wedin said.

“We have a smaller crop. California is hitting it pretty hard, so why rush it?” he said. “Let’s let the flavor build. We’re bringing everything up in controlled atmosphere, so let’s relax and let demand extend itself through February and maybe even into March.


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