(March 4, 10:53 a.m.) Mexican mango imports came into March like a lion, but overall volumes this season could be more lamb like.

Through the end of February, about 2.1 million boxes of mangoes had been shipped from Mexico to the U.S., up from 798,000 boxes at the same time last year and 413,000 boxes at the same time in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In three of the last six days of February, daily shipments topped 150,000 boxes, said Bill Vogel, president of Tavilla Sales Co. Inc., Los Angeles. Last year at this time, the biggest days were in the 60,000-box range, Vogel said.

“We’ve seen very good supplies. The quality’s good and it’s heavy on the larger sizes — 14s to 18s,” he said.

While early volumes out of Mexico are heavy, William Watson, executive director of the National Mango Board, Orlando, Fla., said total shipments this season could wind up being lower.

“We’re hearing volumes are going to be tighter than last year,” he said.

The word out of Mexico this season, Watson said, is that exporters plan to focus more on quality than in the past, with less small fruit making its way to the U.S. As a result, Mexican shipments will likely be below last year’s 42 million-box total, he said.

Guatemalan, Nicaraguan and Costa Rican mango shipments could be slightly below last year’s totals, while Haiti is expecting a small increase, Watson said.

Rick Burkett, a salesman for Farmer’s Best International LLC, Nogales, Ariz., reported exceptional quality, large sizes and active markets at the beginning of March.

“Fruit seems to be moving well,” he said. “Ataulfos aren’t super-expensive or real cheap.”

On March 3, the USDA reported prices of $7-8 for one-layer cartons of size 12 ataulfos from Mexico, down from $9.50-10 last year at the same time.

The week of March 2, Vogel expected prices to begin reflecting the surging volumes.

“There will be good promotional opportunities,” he said. “It’s going to be a heck of a year for mangoes.”

Even with the heavy volumes from Mexico, prices weren’t too low, and they probably won’t be throughout the season, Vogel said, because of what he called an “extremely light” Peruvian crop.

“Retailers had to shift over to Mexico,” he said.

Vogel said there would likely be a temporary volume dip in mid-March on the yellow-skinned ataulfos because of a lighter second bloom on plants. Rising volumes of tommy atkins and hadens from Mexico during that time will pick up the slack, he predicted.

With importers more focused than ever on year-round supplies, Watson did not expect significant gaps or price fluctuations this season.

Burkett expected shipments of tommys and maybe a few hadens to begin reaching U.S. markets the week of March 23.

Farmer’s Best will pack a new 4-count clamshell and possibly a half-box with 4 to 6 mangoes this year, Burkett said.