(June 1) This year’s Florida avocado crop is expected to bring more quality than quantity, grower-shippers said.

Sunny and calm weather in late May was a far cry from last year’s hurricanes — Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

But avocado trees are still reeling from the hurricanes, and yields will probably be 30% to 50% lower as a result, said Craig Wheeling, chief executive officer of Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals Inc.

It seems there is a silver lining to the hurricane damage, though, because Wheeling said this year’s crop should be the highest quality since 1996.

“Lots of sunlight can get in the trees because the wind (from the hurricanes) pruned trees back,” Wheeling said. “There’s lots of airflow to reduce moisture with very little rain this spring. That will also help.”

Brooks Tropicals began harvesting small amounts of its early varieties — the donnie and simmons — May 20, Wheeling said. Volume should increase the last week of June, he said.

And with low supplies, grower-shippers said they expect to see higher prices.

Bruce Fishbein, partner in The Produce Connection Inc., Miami, said he expects the opening market to be $60-$80 per 40-pound box, while Amador Sanchez, salesman at Coast Tropical, Princeton, Fla., said he expects avocados to cost $70-$80 a bushel.

Herbie Yamamura, general manager of Princeton-based New Limeco LLC, said he expects to sell avocados for $18 per flat and $35 for double cartons.

Along with hurricane damage, Yamamura said a recent lack of rain has contributed to a drop in volume.

Fortunately, New Limeco sources from a large number of trees ages 7-10, he said.

Those trees, he said, survived the hurricane because they are not as tall as the older trees. The older trees, Yamamura said, sometimes live for 40 or 50 years.

Still, New Limeco’s early avocado varieties were too small for harvesting May 30, Yamamura said. By June 5, New Limeco will likely harvest the donnie variety, Yamamura said. And by late June or early July, Yamamura said New Limeco should harvest the Simmons variety.

Quality should remain good throughout the season, Yamamura said.