Avocado prices topped $56 per box in late June on very low Mexican volumes, and even when Mexico ramps up again in July, markets for large fruit could remain tight.

The surprisingly quick end to the Mexican season started to become clear in May, and it’s played out as expected into summer, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif.

“It started driving prices higher, and that’s continued,” Wedin said June 28. “Prices are as high as we’ve seen in the last 10 to 15 years.”

On June 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $55.25-56.25 for 2-layer cartons of hass 48s from Mexico, up from $32.25-33.25 last year at the same time.

Wedin described a kind of perfect storm in which peak demand collided with the top supplier winding down very early.

“We’re really struggling to get to the 4th of July. It’s been a headache. The growth in Mexico has been so strong — that they would wind down a month early has been hard to accept.”

Robb Bertels, vice president of marketing for Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce, said Mexico had been a “non-factor” in the market in the second half of June.

“It’s fairly unusual. Volumes have been much lower than expected.”

Into the void has stepped California, which was shipping peak volumes in late June and making up 60% of all volume shipping in the U.S. the week of June 20, Wedin said.

“California has responded quite well, and it’s been good for California growers.”

While California peaked in June, volumes should be strong through much of July, with weekly shipments in the “high teens,” Bertels predicted.

Mexican volumes fell from 30 million pounds weekly in mid-May to just 7 million pounds the week of June 20, but by the week of July 4, they could climb back up to 20 million pounds as new-season shipments begin arriving, Wedin said.

That should bring prices for smaller fruit down, but larger fruit could still be at a premium for some time, he said.

Size has been a battle for two months, Bertels said, with fruit from California, Peru and the late Mexican deal all on the small side.

While the Jalisco region of Mexico has been cleared for export to the U.S., some details in the work plan for the region haven’t been worked out, so Jalisco has not been able to help fill the June gap, Wedin said.

Another newcomer to the U.S. scene, Peru, also hasn’t been taking much of the pressure off of Mexico.

Heavy June rains caused Peruvian shippers to cancel a shipment of 20 containers of avocados and other fruits to the U.S. in late June, said Marianela Rodriguez of Peru’s Consorcio de Productores de Fruta S.A. (CPF).

El Nino-related problems throughout the Peruvian season have caused shippers to significantly scale back their export forecasts, Rodriguez said.

Exports are projected to rise just 3% this year, and because of strong demand from Europe, just 12% of Peruvian fruit had been exported to the U.S. through late June, she said.

El Nino has affected not just overall volumes this season but also fruit size, Rodriguez said.