( Courtesy Brooks Tropicals )

Avocado harvest is gearing up in south Florida, with harvest and shipments kicking in by early June, shippers said.

Crop prospects may be slightly down compared to last year’s big crop.

“We expect the 2020-21 Florida SlimCado Tropical avocado crop to be somewhat smaller than last year’s, with a later true start date due to extremely dry spring weather,” said Peter Leifermann, vice president of sales and marketing for Brooks Tropicals, Homestead, Fla.

Early season volume may be off 20% to 25% compared with a year ago because of hot weather earlier this year, said Manny Hevia, president of M&M Farms, Miami.

“It’s really hard to say — you know that sometimes the fruit just hides in there, and it’s tough to see,” he said. 

Some sections of the groves have a fairly good set while other sections seem light, he said.

A better crop is projected toward the middle of the season in September and October, Hevia said. Harvest of Florida’s greenskin avocado crop will continue through the end of the year and into the first quarter of 2021. In the past season, Hevia said he shipped avocados through March.

Related: U.S. imports rise on strength of berries, grapes and avocados

“I’m hoping that we will have a little extra later to compensate for the some of the lack of fruit at the beginning of the season,” he said.

Eddie Caram, general manager of New Limeco, Princeton, Fla., also said his company would start picking avocados the first of June and could continue to March or April next year.

The crop should be lighter in some varieties and heavier in others, he said, with those mixed prospects figuring to make overall volume similar to a year ago.

Demand for avocados has been growing in recent years with more and more publicity about their health benefits, Caram said. 

Challenges

While last year’s crop was huge, Hevia said that laurel wilt disease remains a big challenge for growers. The vascular disease, caused by a fungus, causes trees to wilt and die.

“We’re losing so much production to laurel wilt,” he said. 

He said growers are fighting to control the disease, adding to their input costs and making the lure of selling to a property developer even more attractive.

A dip in housing start may relieve pressure on selling farm land. 

“I do see those of us who are going to stick to farming; we are committed to avocados,” Hevia said.

In addition, much research funding has been committed to finding a solution to laurel wilt disease. 

“We are either going to find something that cures it outright or we’re going to find something that inoculates it so it can be something we can live with, or we won’t be talking about avocados; we will be talking about something else,” he said.

Demand for avocados has been growing and prices have been strong, Hevia said.

“If it wasn’t for laurel wilt and added expenses (to control it), our growers would have had an unbelievably profitable year,” he said.

Retail and foodservice

Florida’s greenskin avocados will find a ready market this year, despite the challenge of COVID-19.

“Hispanics love the (Florida greenskin) and I think they will buy them, and I think the supermarket is going to carry them,” Hevia said.

“It is not as big a foodservice item as the hass; the (greenskin) is more of a salad type avocado,” he said. 

Even losing perhaps 5% of overall demand because of the decline of foodservice, Hevia said consumer demand will be strong.

“It’s not a super expensive piece of fruit, and I think people are going to buy it,” he said.

Caram said wholesalers are important customers of Florida greenskin avocados, and those wholesalers supply many Hispanic restaurants that use greenskins in salads.

The typical carton for Florida avocados is the double-layer 25-pound box, with the most popular retail sizes from 18s to 24s. Caram said prices are variable through the season but in general will trade in a range from $16 per carton on the low end to $30-35 per carton on the high end. 

Related: Pandemic helps boost bagged avocado sales

 
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