The start of the California avocado season has been delayed, but growing areas desperately need the rain they’re getting now, and grower-shippers are confident they can make up lost time this summer.

“It’s going very, very slowly,” said Bob Lucy, co-owner of Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif.

“The crop in the south normally starts in January or February, but growers are having trouble finding size.”

The rains in Southern California are helping fruit size, though, Lucy said.

It will likely be early March before the industry starts to see real volumes, Lucy said. As of Feb. 10 there was very little size 48 fruit coming out of California, and prices on 60s and 70s were too low for growers to be tempted to pick that fruit, he said.

“The good news is growers are staying patient,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc.

“The groves look great. There’s been very little wind damage, and no pests.”

On Feb. 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $24.25-26.25 for two-layer cartons of hass 32s.

By waiting until March, shippers will not only help ensure they’re shipping bigger, higher-quality fruit, said Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing for Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc. — they’ll also take advantage of Chile being done with volume shipments.

By the middle of March, California volumes should be three times what they were in mid-February, Wedin said. By mid-April, they should be six times as big.

“We are going to hit some great numbers, but a month behind,” he said. “Fortunately Mexico has a large crop, and Chile stayed in longer this season.”

The volume situation is different in Santa Barbara and other growing regions on the northern end of the California deal than it is near San Diego, Lucy said. Even with prices not as high as they’d like, growers have been forced to pick because trees are so loaded with fruit.

Typically, early in the deal, up to three-quarters of California fruit comes from the south. This year, Lucy said, the percentages are almost exactly reversed.

An overabundance of product picked in May and June could be a concern this year, Lucy said, but overall, he’s optimistic about the 2010 season.

“We look forward to a really good year, and we hope to keep prices stable,” Lucy said.

Prices would likely stay fairly stable through spring before possibly increasing in early summer, Wedin said.

Wileman agreed that while there was a chance of a slight increase when Chile exits the deal for good, prices would likely stay steady for the foreseeable future.

California avocado volumes not likely until March