Florida’s tropical fruit season is underway and marketers are expecting a strong bounce-back year.
“Overall, we’re looking forward to the first ‘real’ year we’ve had since Hurricane Irma in 2017,” said Deanna Obana, sales representative for Brooks Tropicals LLC, Homestead, Fla.
“All of our crops were affected by the storm in some way or another and 2018 was a mostly rejuvenating year for the plants — they focused more on growing back than producing fruit.”
For Florida grown tropicals, Jessie Capote, vice president of Miami-based J&C Tropicals, said the state is entering its prime time.
“We have year-round commodities but the real ... exciting stuff happens late April all the way to September (and) October,” he said.
The South Florida winter was incredibly dry, which Capote said has resulted in the need for more irrigation than typical and slowed fruit growth somewhat.
“The tree fruit so far looks fine,” he said, though typical windy conditions in April and May could result in some dropped avocados and mangoes. Little effect from the wind is likely for dragon fruit and mamey sapote.
Obana said Brooks Tropicals is looking forward to harvesting the company’s Florida SlimCados avocados in late May as its avocado supply from the Dominican Republic continues to wane.
The 2017 Census of Agriculture showed that bearing acreage of Florida avocados was estimated at 5,900 acres that year, down from 11,781 acres in 2012 and off slightly from 6,523 acres in 2007.
Non-bearing avocado acreage in Florida in 2017 was estimated at 426 acres, down from 1,150 acres in 2012 but up from 338 acres in 2007.
Capote said Florida avocados should enjoy a “normal season” after being set back by Hurricane Irma last year.
With summer volume beginning in earnest in early May, Obana said Brooks expects a slightly larger Florida passion fruit crop in 2019 compared with record breaking volume in 2018.
Volume should continue strong through July and early August, she said.
Capote of J&C Tropicals said that the company has about 25 acres of passion fruit, including both purple passion fruit and a new yellow passion fruit program.
“The purple passion fruit is predominantly for the Asian demographic and the yellow one for the Hispanic, and we have both, and that’s been going very well,” he said.
Florida dragon fruit volume will begin in May, with the red-fleshed varieties coming in the earliest in minimal volume, Obana said.
“We expect to really get going as the white-fleshed varieties come on in early June,” Obana said.
Capote of Miami-based J&C Tropicals said dragon fruit has been a popular Florida-grown tropical for the company. The company offers both a red dragon fruit with white flesh and a red dragon fruit with red
“We moved 2.5 million pounds last year so it’s just a monster and has become a really good deal for us,” Capote said.
“We took it to retail four or five years ago and it’s been no looking back since then,” he said.
J&C Tropicals brands its dragon fruit as “Dragon Fuel.”
“It is still an evolution in terms of educating consumers,” he said, noting that a yellow dragon fruit variety with white flesh from Ecuador is also popular.
Florida carambola will begin shipping in late June for Brooks Tropicals, Obana said, while the Florida lychee season should begin in late May and last through June.
Capote of J&C Tropicals said carambola volume should increase in late summer and be available to the end of the year.
Obana said the mamey sapote has already begun with the larger magana variety and is followed up with the medium-sized pantin (aka Key West) variety and through September.
“Mamey sapote trees had their internal clocks all reset at the same time by Irma, resulting in this year’s bumper crop,” she said.
Capote said J&C Tropicals typically packs about 2 million pounds of mamey sapote, and may do that or better this year.
Capote said Florida-grown mangoes — mostly active from late May to late July — are a big deal to Florida retailers. Major varieties are tommy atkins and kents, with lesser volumes of haden and palmer varieties, he said.
“Number one, you get better tasting fruit because you don’t have to treat it through the hot water process that imports require,” he said.
“You are also, because you’re traveling less miles with it, you get to ripen it a little bit on the trees so when it gets to the stores it is in this perfect stage.”
And Florida retailers love to support Florida farmers, and that fact keeps most of the fruit in the state.
“We have more demand than we can supply,” he said.
Capote said there have been some efforts to bring limes back to South Florida, but citrus greening and the huge investment needed for developing commercial lime acreage has dampened enthusiasm.
Capote said pack sizes and options vary according to retail needs, with everything from RPCs to 10-pound and 25-pound corrugated options for tropical fruit.
“We try to we try to accommodate to wherever a particular store needs,” he said.
Capote said he likes to plan promotions through the season, with some preset volume and pricing six weeks before deliveries begin.
“We try to program a lot of this stuff way in advance, and as long, at the end of the day, (as) the commodity continues to grow and the farmer gets his fair cut, we as a distributor get our fair cut and the retailers are able to make the market they need, that’s really how we run it.”