Florida avocado volume is expected to be significantly lower this season.
“Hurricane Irma did a number on Florida avocados,” said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals.
“Avocado trees are shallow-rooted. The trees got stressed during the storm, impacting both harvesting volumes and seasonal starts. This is a season of hesitant projections.”
Jessie Capote, partner in Miami-based J&C Tropicals, said volume will be down roughly 50% because of the September storm that ravaged agriculture across the state.
Louie Carricarte, president of Homestead-based Unity Groves Corp., projected 50% to 60% of a typical crop because of damage from the hurricane.
About 25% of the avocado trees were toppled by the winds and are out of circulation for 2-3 years, Carricarte said.
Eddie Caram, general manager of Princeton, Fla.-based New Limeco, also reported volume will be down.
“The industry is looking about 50% to 60% of what the production was estimated for last season before the hurricane,” Caram said.
Ostlund also forecast a noticeable departure from the norm.
“The amount we’ll be able to pick will be much lower this year,” she said. “The crop could be a third less than last year. Some estimates indicate a much lower crop yield.”
Jonathan Crane, tropical fruit crop specialist at the University of Florida, estimated that volume could be 60% to 70% of a more typical crop.
With harvesting not yet started, Capote said it is hard to tell what quality will be across the board, though some of the fruit has wind scarring.
Caram expected quality will be strong given the more recent conditions.
“We have not started, but the weather has been very good, so quality should be very good,” Caram said.
J&C plans to do its best to cover the needs of its customers, but it will be a challenging season, Capote said.
The company expects to start shipping the first or second week of June.
New Limeco plans to begin shipping in mid-June, with the crop about two weeks behind last season, Caram said.
Ostlund also noted that timing will be a bit different because of the storm.
“Most seasons start in June, with low volumes at first,” Ostlund said.
“The demand is so high in South Florida, the first pickings rarely get out of the county. By mid- to late June we’ll have higher volumes. So time-wise that’s what normally happens. This year will be outside the norm.”
Carricarte said the company will begin shipping at the beginning of June as usual.
One positive is that demand for Florida avocados continues to be strong, so Unity Groves looks forward to a good year despite the short crop, Carricarte said.
The company has increased its avocado acreage by about 15%.
Aside from the difficulties caused by Irma, there are some other pressures on Florida avocados — most notably laurel wilt disease.
Crane said that from 2012 to present, about 10% of Florida avocado acreage has been lost to laurel wilt, with diseased trees being removed and adjacent trees being taken out as well to try and slow the spread of the disease. The vector is the ambrosia beetle.
“Florida avocados growers have been dealing with the ambrosia beetles that have affected some groves,” Caram said.
“The growers are dealing with this problem to try and eradicate.”
In addition to causing a new set of issues, Hurricane Irma likely exacerbated the effects of laurel wilt.
“When you have trees damaged, it makes them more susceptible to insects and diseases,” Crane said.
The electronic logging device mandate also continues to affect produce companies across the country. Capote noted that the requirements have made transportation more complicated and more costly.