A huge Mexican avocado crop has severely limited exports of Chilean avocados to the U.S.

Because of the size of the Mexican crop, Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., isn’t even importing avocados from Chile this season, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and fresh marketing.

The Association of Michoacán State Avocado Producers and Packers (APEAM) projects that 986 million pounds of Mexican avocados will be shipped to the U.S. in 2012-13, up from 782 million pounds in 2011-12.

Initially, Wedin said, Chilean shippers expected to send 130 million pounds of avocados to the U.S. That was first downgraded to 100 million pounds. As of mid-December, the estimate had plummeted to about 50 million pounds because of Chilean shippers’ fears of oversaturated U.S. markets.

Through Dec. 15, about 19 million pounds of Chilean avocados had been shipped to the U.S., down from 86 million pounds last year at the same time, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It’s down to about two million pounds a week for the first quarter,” he said. “Our position was, there wasn’t a real opportunity for Chilean fruit in the U.S.”

Volumes initially slated for the U.S. are now being rerouted to Argentina, Europe and other markets, he said.

Even with the drastically lower volumes from Chile, marketers are faced with the task of moving a very big crop this season, thanks to another record year for Mexico, Wedin said.

Year-to-date, 25% more avocados than last year had been shipped in the U.S. through mid-December.

The week of Dec. 10, about 31 million pounds of avocados were shipped from Mexico to the U.S. Just 1.5 million pounds came from Chile, said Bob Lucy, partner in Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif.

Those are big volumes from Mexico, but not so big that markets couldn’t be a little stronger, Lucy said.

“We’re at about the threshold of where we can move things smoothly, but the market’s about $3-5 under where we think it could be.”

On Dec. 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $17.25-18.25 for two-layer cartons of hass 48s from Mexico, down from $24.25 last year at the same time.

Lucy is cautiously optimistic that the holidays will slow volumes, leading to a corresponding boost in prices. In addition, he said more Mexican shippers are realizing they may need to slow exports to strengthen markets.

“We’re getting a little more accommodated” to the big volumes, Wedin said. “We expect to be extremely busy through the summer and into the fall.”

Prices are lower than growers and shippers would like, but still fairly stable, particularly on sizes in the 40-70 range, Wedin said. Markets for both the smallest and the largest fruit have been more volatile.

There’s also no need for Chilean avocados on the back end of the Mexican deal because of an expected big California crop, Wedin said.

“California will start in February and really build in March,” he said.