By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer



HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Recovering from successive hurricane-ravaged years and last season?s low production, this season has brought South Florida avocado shippers a bumper crop and lower-than-normal prices.



Shippers are expected to move 1.2 million bushels, or the equivalent of 4.8 million 12.5-pound flats, according to the Florida Avocado Administrative Committee, which oversees the federal Florida avocado marketing order.



That's higher than an earlier forecast of 950,000 to 1 million bushels, or 4.4 million equivalent flats.



For the week ending Aug. 25, the industry shipped 485,394 bushels, or 1.9 million flats, the highest number season-to-date the state in five years, the committee reported.



Florida's larger non-hass avocados typically begin production in late May and early June with promotable volumes beginning after July 4. Major volume usually ends in September, with smaller movements continuing through late January and early February.



Because of this season's larger volume, Homestead-based Brooks Tropicals Inc. expects to ship major volume through the end of October.



BIG CROP



"Last season was a rebound year. This season is a back-with-a-vengeance year," said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing. "The year after the storms, we really pruned and cared for our trees. The trees have really paid us back big-time. This has been a great avocado season."



The company plans to ship 600,000 bushels, or 2.4 million flats, through late February.



Last season, Brooks shipped fruit through March, said Bill Brindle, vice president of sales management. Most customers normally stop their purchases in January, he said.



"This has been a big crop," Brindle said. "The industry has done a good job selling it."



That larger-than-normal crop has brought lower prices.



Shippers in late August reported receiving $5.50 for 12.5-pound flats of the green-skin varieties. That compares to last season in late August when growers received $7.50 a flat, said Eddie Caram, sales manager for New Limeco LLC, Princeton.



LOW PRICES



Peter Leifermann, president of Fresh King Inc., Homestead, characterized the season as brutal.



The price is as low as he has ever seen it, he said.



Because shorter-than-normal supplies during the past three seasons have made the Florida avocado deal a seller's market, retail buyers haven?t been as aggressive in their purchasing and promotions, Leifermann said.



"After two years of not having avocados, we have to basically reintroduce avocados," he said. "A year like this will give us an opportunity to reintroduce the Florida avocado to all the customers."



Growers have been picking at an above-average pace, said Herbert Yamamura, New Limeco's general manager. He said he recently had heard some growers were going to pick some pollock variety avocados in late August. Before he got a chance to turn around, they had already picked 60 bins, he said.