Thursday, May 17, 2007

SlimCados, Florida Avocados Should Bounce Back in Big Way

By Doug Ohlemeier

Rebounding from years of hurricane damage, Florida avocado grower-shippers expect a big boost in production.Volume is expected to be twice as much as last season’s.Florida’s pickings normally start in late May and pick up with promotable volume during mid-June and July.

The state is expected to ship 950,000-1 million bushels or 4.4 million equivalent 12.5-pound flats, said Alan Flinn, administrator of the Homestead-based Florida Avocado Administrative Committee, which oversees the federal Florida avocado marketing order.Last year, the state’s grower-shippers, centered in Miami-Dade County, packed 520,792 bushels, or 2 million equivalent flats.

“We are expecting a very good season,” Flinn said. “We got by last year better than we expected. Our main concern has been keeping the hurricanes away.”Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, which struck Florida in fall 2005, damaged trees and caused the state to produce about half of the normal crop last year.

Though some growers had already begun early pickings May 14, Homestead-based grower-shipper Brooks Tropicals Inc. had not finalized its start, but was considering to begin harvesting by May 28, said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing.“We’re so excited about this year’s crop of SlimCados,” she said. “This year, we’re back. After two years of slim pickings because of Wilma and Katrina, the SlimCados are back,” Ostlund said.Brooks grows and ships its SlimCado line of avocados.

Neal Palmer "Pal" Brooks, Brooks’ owner, in mid-May saw many good-looking flowers with fruit on them, Ostlund said.“Based on what we see flowering and what we see in the fruit actually growing, we think it will be a good year,” she said. “Quality should be excellent.”

Brooks expects to ship 550,000 bushels or 2.2 million equivalent flats this season, about half of the deal’s avocados.

Because shipments had not begun yet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wasn’t reporting Florida prices in mid-May.Last season, Florida’s deal started at $16 per 12.5-pound flat in June. By late July, prices had declined to $12 a flat.Florida shippers received $10-12 per flat during the months of last season’s deal.

In July, 12s are common while 9s hit in September, Brooks’ Ostlund said.The drought hasn’t hindered Brooks’ avocados, Ostlund said.Though this season hasn’t been a banner year for rain, Brooks has come out okay, she said.

Though shippers pack Florida avocados in half-bushel and 4/5-bushel containers, they ship a majority of them in the quarter-bushel or flat containers, Flinn said.Because of a lack of funding, the avocado administrative committee hasn’t conducted any recent acreage surveys and Flinn declined to provide acreage information.

Florida produced an average 6,000 bearing acres since the 2000-01 season, 9% of U.S. avocado acreage, according to USDA