Florida avocado growers hope for longer season

05/24/2012 02:35:00 PM
Melissa Shipman

It’s too early to tell exactly how this year’s Florida avocado crop will fare, especially after the discovery of laurel wilt disease in a commercial grove north of Homestead in early May. However, growers are optimistic about the season.

“There will likely be a noticeable reduction of last year’s crop, maybe 10% to 15% less, but it’s still early,” said Bill Schaefer, vice president of marketing for Fresh King Inc., Homestead, Fla.

That reduction in supply isn’t directly related to the discovery of the disease, nor is it a surprise, considering last year’s sizable crop, which yielded 22,500 tons and was valued at $18 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“Last year was an extraordinarily larger bumper crop. This year, we’ve had a very mild winter, and that can cause there to be a little less fruit,” said Jessie Capote, executive vice president of J&C Tropicals, Miami. “But last year was really big volume, so we should be about back down to normal.”

Bill Brindle, sales vice president for Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, said he also expects a slightly smaller crop, but that volume will be sufficient.

“This is going to be a good year. It’s a good-looking crop that got some help with this year’s warm winter. Volumes won’t reach last year’s heights, but the numbers should be good to fill our demand,” Brindle said in an e-mail.

Jose Arcia, salesman for M&M Tropicals, Miami, said the crop won’t be too large.

“It will be a normal supply,” he said.

Eddie Caram, general manager for New Limeco LLC, Princeton, Fla., expects prices to rise slightly for this year because of higher fuel and packaging costs as well as food safety expenses.

Schaefer agrees that production costs are up.

“There’s no denying the steady increase in peripheral costs,” he said, citing increased minimum wage, insurance, fertilizer prices, cardboard costs and food safety certifications as some of the main expenses.

Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Brooks Tropicals, said she expects pricing to be rather stable, though she’s not sure where that will be.

“It’s a little too early for pricing, but we’ve got a good volume,” she said.

Growers expect this season to begin at a normal time and to run solid through the end of the season, which can last about nine months.

“The crop really doesn’t start until the middle of June, and with the 20 or so varieties we go through it’ll end around February,” Capote said.

Arcia from M&M Tropicals agreed, saying the crop should begin at the end of May or in early June.

Growers expect larger, promotable volumes to hit retail stores in July.

“The primary promotion campaigns will be based on price, especially in July, when we’ll have higher volumes due to weather demands,” Schaefer said.

The rest of the year looks good, too, as growers seek to find varieties that can lengthen the growing season for Florida avocados.

“There are a couple of varieties under study right now,” Schaefer said. “Florida’s quest is to try to lengthen the season. We would love to be able to be year-round (season) but haven’t found a variety for that yet.”

Growers do have varieties that last all the way into March, however, and others that start as early as late May or early June, so that leaves a gap of just a month or two.

Jonathan Crane, tropical fruit crop specialist for the Tropical Research & Education Center at the University of Florida, said the idea of having year-round avocados in Florida may not be far off.

“There have been about five varieties selected by growers that can last even into March, April or May,” he said.

The new varieties are still being tested and patented, so no specific information was available from the research center, though Crane is optimistic the longer season soon will be a reality.



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