Florida avocado growers expect higher volume

05/27/2011 10:19:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — After successive years of shorter than normal crops, Florida avocado growers expect the new season to bring regular volume.

The 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons saw crops of 914 million bushels and 855 million bushels, respectively, less than the typical season production of nearly 1 million bushels.

Because of extreme January and February cold, the 2010-11 season saw smaller production and shipments ending earlier than normal, growers said. The cold temperatures cut yields and delayed volume, similar to what occurred with other Florida crops such as tomatoes. That scenario produced higher prices and fewer retail promotions.

Conversely, grower-shipper estimates predict this season’s crop will be 20% bigger than last year’s, said Bill Brindle, vice president of sales management for Brooks Tropicals Inc. He added that 2011-12 should bring a 1.2 million bushel harvest.

“All of the customers we have talked with are very excited about the promotional opportunities that will be available this year if we have a normal crop,” Brindle said in mid-May. “They just can’t wait for the season to get started.”

Although growers usually start harvesting small quantities in late May, regular harvesting typically begins in early to mid-June with bigger commercial retail-promotable volumes commencing in late June.

A large July crop should make for strong promotions, Brindle said. Retail customers plan to promote Florida avocados throughout July and August, the months that typically see the largest season volumes, he said.

With a larger crop, growers and retailers should look for more month-long promotions. Brindle said 2007-08 was the last year the industry had enough volume to support such volumes.

Brooks plans to ship around 500,000 bushels this season, up from last season’s 410,000 bushels.

Princeton-based New Limeco LLC expects to increase its volume from 180,000 bushels last season to 250,000 bushels this season, said Eddie Caram, general manager.

The crop has set well, Caram said, and he expects it to produce nice fruit.

“The season looks great,” he said in mid-May. “It looks like we will have a nice crop that’s 30% more than last season. There is a lot of fruit. Everything has worked out very well for avocados so far this year.”

Aside from abnormal December cold, Caram said, this year’s growing season brought favorable conditions to the avocado groves with little wind. The flowers have formed well and Caram is eyeing a more typical season.

Opening season prices often start as high as $22 a flat. Prices typically quickly fall to the mid- to high teens, where they remain for a couple of weeks. July volume, however, can see prices fall into the single digits.

In late June last season, the earliest the U.S. Department of Agriculture began reporting Florida avocado prices, one-layer flats sold for $19. By early to mid-July, the USDA reported $12 to $13 per flat. In late July and early August, flats of 8-9s of donnie and simmonds varieties sold for $6 and 10-12s for $6.50 to $7. By late November, flats of 8-9s sold for $7 with 10-12s fetching $7 to $7.50, according to the USDA.

With its 2,500 acres of its own and other growers’ acreage, Miami-based M&M Farm Inc. expects to produce 200,000 bushels, said Manny Hevia Jr., secretary-treasurer.

M&M plans to begin harvesting in late May with the arue variety.

“So far, things look very good,” Hevia said in mid-May. “The trees are healthy, strong and are setting more fruit. This season should be a lot better than the last couple of seasons. We should have some nice volumes to be able to give the supermarkets. We should have some great-tasting product.”

J&C Tropicals, Miami, has doubled its acreage to 100 acres, said Jeanette Rodriguez, vice president of marketing.

J&C’s owners have high expectations for this season, Rodriguez said.

“We are expecting a record-breaking season,” she said in mid-May. “Production is expected to be high, and we should see excellent quality. We are expecting great fruit this year.”

Rodriguez said last season went surprisingly well and that J&C saw success with it despite the cold.

However, industry members remain concerned about the spread of the laurel wilt disease, a fungus that destroys red bay and avocado trees. The redbay ambrosia beetle, which transports the disease, has been spotted close to avocado groves.

“As long as we keep this beetle and hurricanes away from us, we should be pretty happy people,” said Peter Schnebly, co-owner and chief executive officer of Fresh King Inc.

Schnebly expects mid-June to be the earliest for any type of normal fruit volume hitting the market, he said.



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