(June 25, 4:34 p.m.) Still reeling from a July 2007 freeze, industry experts say Chile’s avocado deal will be at best equal to last year’s in volume. Coupled with California’s own recovery from a freeze, industry experts expect good prices for sellers as demand remains high.

Chileans are predicting around 115,000 tons for the 2008-09 deal beginning in July and reaching strength by September with a probable market exit by February/March. The volume would match last year’s deal, which was a 30% drop-off over the 2006-07 crop.

“The volume that we are expecting to have should be similar to last season or slightly less,” said Maritza Soto, market analyst at Santiago’s Decofrut. With an estimate of just under 40,000 hectares of avocado plantings and 31,000 in production, Soto said new production will help some in maintaining the consistent volume from last year.

“The damage is evident,” said Juan Pablo Cerda, partner and executive director of Cabilfrut SA, Santiago, Chile. “The freezes and droughts have resulted in the Chilean avocado industry maintaining a similar level as 2007.”

Cerda said the new acreage coming into production is not sufficient to cover the effects of the freeze.

“There will not be a significant increase in new hectares,” he said. “We will see replantings in zones that were very exposed to the freezes as well as reforming current plantations through pruning.”

Industry experts said the two-season effect of last year’s freeze is the result of damage to the fruit in the 2007-08 deal and the blooms destined for this year’s deal.

Dave Culpepper, import/export director at West Pak Avocado, Inc., Temecula, Calif., said that’s because “bud wood” was severely damaged in many growing areas and fewer buds mean fewer fruit.

“All the growing area was affected to some degree or another,” he said.

Culpepper and others estimate that Chileans will leave the fruit on trees longer, allowing the avocados to get larger and fetch a higher price.

Norman Traner, director at Eco-Farms USA, Temecula, said fruit should be larger as more nutrients will be directed to the smaller amount of fruit on the trees.

In fact, many importers are urging Chile to hold off on the bulk of their shipments to prevent an oversupply because of California’s late start.

“We’re all prepared for it. Every one is talking about it,” said Robert Lucy, president of Del Rey Avocado Co., Fallbrook, Calif. “We’re asking Chileans to hold back bigger volume for October/November and not to bury us with fruit in September.”

“We’re trying to emphasize to the Chileans that they will have a very good October-November-December,” he said.

Traner said the “Mediterranean” climate in Chile are ideal for avocados, which also benefit from the moist air in the foothills of the Andes.

Cerda concedes that weather conditions this year show also been very good.

“The temperatures to this date have been very good and benign for avocado production,” he said. “Also, rains have returned with a lot of force and we can expect with near certainty to have ended the drought.”

Weather aside, industry experts say there is excitement about the Chilean fruit, which boasts a high 23% dry-matter content, which values the oil that contributes to optimum flavor.

“The product must be permanently on the stands at a level of adequate maturity and a reasonable price,” Cerda said. “We aspire to establish large alliances with the chains and distributors along the full length of the market, geographically speaking.”

Even with weak U.S. dollar, Chile plans to continue to maintain strong ties in the U.S. market.

Nonetheless, experts say a larger percentage of Chilean avocados this year may be diverted to high per capita avocado consuming Europe. There, countries like England and Spain have responded well to aggressive advertising, and marketers will enter new countries like Denmark this year.

“As much as 25% of the Chilean crop going into Europe. That’s just good economics,” Culpepper said. “Chile has developed other markets, in particular in Europe. A portion … is diverted to the European market. It lets them diversify.”

In addition to new advertising in Europe, the U.S. market can expect to see a beefed-up avocado pitch nationwide geared toward expanding consumption among Hispanics as well as the general population.