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California avocado season will run late, Mexican and Chilean volume will start late

by Rand Green | August 08, 2010
California had a small Hass avocado crop last year and finished shipping in August. This year, the state has a large crop which, for a variety of reasons, got off to a slow start and as of late July was at peak volume with still roughly 40 percent of the harvest to go. Volume was expected to continue strong into October, with some shipments extending into November.

As it happens, Mexico and Chile, the other two major avocado producing areas for the U.S. market, which last year were in strong volume hot on the heels of California's early finish, both will be considerably later getting into major volume this fall — Chile because of a lighter crop that was recently further shortened by a freeze, and Mexico because of light volume on the front end of the season. However, by the time California finishes, both Mexico and Chile are expected to be going strong.

Total avocado volume sold in the United States during the 2009 calendar year was 1.1 billion pounds, and "this year we are expecting 1.4 [billion], more or less," said Jose Luis Obregon, managing director of the Hass Avocado Board, which represents handlers of Hass avocados from all sources.

For 2011, Mr. Obregon expects “probably a smaller total than this year,” partly because California, coming off of a heavy crop, expects lighter volume in 2011, he said. Although it is “too soon” to put a number on total 2011 shipments, he expects it will be somewhere between the record 2010 volume and the 2009 volume.

Because the industry has done such a good job of creating demand, “we have been very successful at moving between 22 [million] and 27 million pounds every week,” he said.

While the impact of a freeze in Chile the third week of July was still being evaluated at this writing, the Chilean Avocado Importers Association as of July 27 was estimating 2010-11 Hass exports to the United States to be around 170 million pounds, down from 300 million the prior season, with volume peaking from November through February.

“The whole crop will be pushed more into the fall and winter months instead of late summer,” which “actually turns out to be a pretty good thing” because of the amount of California fruit still to be moved, said Bob Lucy, president of Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc. in Fallbrook, CA.

Mexican exporters expect a total volume for July through December this year very similar to last year, but that includes some old-crop carryover from a large 2009-10 crop. Although Mexico ships year round, volume is lighter during the summer transition from the old to the new crop, and U.S. handlers of Mexican avocados say that this summer’s off-season harvest will be lighter than usual as will the early part of the main new crop.

“Mexico will start more slowly than it did last year,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of fresh sales at Calavo Growers Inc. in Santa Paula, CA. “It seems that the flora loca and the early crop are not as big as they were last year.” But by October, about the time California volume starts to taper off, he expects Mexico to be shipping weekly volumes similar to last year.

“I think you will see good volumes from Mexico ... all the way into May or June,” said Dana Thomas, president of Index Fresh Inc. in Bloomington, CA. For 2011, “we are expecting a smaller crop out of California,” with the harvest getting underway around March or April, he said. “On a weekly basis, starting about in October, we see that the average weekly volume [over the next year] while still respectable will be down from 2009-10.”

Meanwhile, in Florida, the green skin avocado crop got off to a late start but was in full swing as of the third week in July.

(For more on global avocados, see the Aug. 9, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)