Thanks to a big California crop, early summer avocado shipments are at or near record levels, and grower-shippers and industry officials say the demand is there to meet it.

Demand strong for big avocado crop

For June, shipments were up more than 30% from last year for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc., said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing.

“I’m pretty sure it’s a record for us, volumewise,” Wedin said. “It’s primarily shouldered by Cali-fornia being significantly bigger.”

Big volumes weren’t sending markets down, though, Wedin said. In fact, the opposite was true.

“Prices have gone up pretty significantly on 70s and smaller the past two weeks,” he said.

On July 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $28.25-29.25 for two-layer car-tons of avocados 48s from California, down from $44.25-45.25 last year at the same time.

Cartons of 70s were $20.25-22.25, down from $35.25-36.25 last year.Those prices should stay about the same in coming weeks, Wedin said.

Helping to drive that big demand has been quality, he said.

“The quality is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s pretty clean and very flavorful — almost as good as it can get.”

The size profile of California and Mexican crops varies this year, helping keep movement brisk, said Emiliano Escobedo, marketing director for APEAM, the Avocado Producers and Exporting Packers Association of Michoacan.

“We’re big on 36s and 48s, and California has lot of small fruit,” he said. “It’s working out really nicely. It’s balancing out the market pretty well.”

The week ending June 26, California exceeded volume expectations for that time of year, while Mexico was under earlier forecasts, Wedin said.

Part of that can be traced to rainy weather in Michoacan, Escobedo said. Mexican growers expect to continue picking 2009-10 fruit through July, with new-season flora loca crop volumes beginning to ship in the first half of July, he said.

Volumes of the flora loca crop — the first of the Mexican season’s four crops — are expected to be slightly lower this year, Escobedo said.

In early July, California supplies reached a plateau in part because of a regulatory restriction, We-din said. Growers have been spraying to keep thrips off of trees. After they spray, fruit can’t be picked for two weeks.

Once that two weeks is up, however, California supplies should surge again, he said. Also, the beginning of the late harvest south of Los Angeles also will give volumes a bump in the second half of July, he said.

“After July 15, we should have another good strong six weeks,” he said.

Demand for smaller California fruit is up in part because of increased demand from the Mexican domestic market, Wedin said.