New Limeco general manager Eddie Caram said the company hopes to pack about 900,000 bushels of avocados this year. ( New Limeco )

After two challenging years, the 2017 Florida avocado season looks promising.

“From what we’re seeing on our trees, this year looks normal,” said Bill Brindle, vice president of sales and marketing for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals, the state’s largest grower.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed on volumes.”

Brindle said early estimates indicate the crop will be 20% larger than last year’s. With a smaller crop in California, which supplies 80% to 90% of domestic fruit, he expects increased demand for Florida’s green-skinned varieties, especially on the East Coast.

Brooks gets most of its volume from 15 varieties of Florida avocados, all packed under the SlimCado brand, he said.

Brooks’ marketing manager Mary Ostlund said harvesting began in May, but with pent-up local demand the large fruit doesn’t usually get out of the state until June.

Ostlund said Florida avocados are becoming more popular west of the Mississippi and into Canada.

“We’ve always had interest from Asia and Europe,” she said, “but it’s hard to ship overseas because it doesn’t have a long shelf life. Canada is our limit.”

Louie Carricarte, president of Homestead-based Unity Groves Corp., said he’s shipping Florida avocados across the country to meet the growing demand.

“In the last two to three years we’ve picked up new customers and existing customers have increased their orders,” Carricarte said, who expects to harvest his first avocados just after Memorial Day.

Manny Hevia, president and CEO of tropical grower-shipper M&M Farm Inc., Miami, is also predicting a 15% to 20% increase in supply this season thanks to the better weather and more acreage coming on from a new supplier.

“We expect a good crop with plenty of fruit to promote after the July Fourth holiday,” said Hevia, who plans to begin harvesting around June 5.

Eddie Caram, general manager of Princeton, Fla.-based grower-shipper New Limeco, expects to start the first or second week of June.

“It looks like there’s a good crop coming and we’ll be able to stretch it all the way through March,” Caram said.

He said the industry packed about 800,000 bushels during last year’s short season, and hopes to pack closer to 900,000 bushels this year, similar to 2015-16.

Jessie Capote, executive vice president and co-owner of Miami-based J&C Tropicals, which owns 100 acres of avocados and leases another 100, said he’s excited about this year’s crop.

“The trees flowered well and had a nice set,” Capote said, who plans to harvest the first week of June with light volumes.

“We’ll have fruit until December but I don’t think it will be a bumper crop,” he said.

Last year’s harvest didn’t start until the end of June, he said, and the crop was down 30% for a number of reasons including unusually heavy rain in December and January.

As for pricing, with hass avocados tight from California, Mexico and Peru, which experienced flooding in April, Capote said Florida could pick up additional business.

“Hass avocado pricing is through the roof and it could be very short for the next three or four months,” Capote said. “While hass and green-skinned avocados aren’t 100% interchangeable, most hard-core avocado fans have tried the green and will substitute given the opportunity.”