(May 29) HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Harvest began in late May for the Florida avocado season, yielding seasonally high prices that should drop as more production gets under way.

“We’re kind of in a dream world now,” said Lewis Walker, president of Fresh Pick Farms Inc., citing f.o.b.s of $16-18 per flat. “I don’t know how long it will last.”

Herbie Yamamura, general manager of New Limeco LLC, Princeton, Fla., said he expects prices to drop gradually. By the time heavier production comes on in early July, f.o.b.s should be around $10, he said.

Shippers vary on their overall assessments of this season’s crop. Yamamura expects the Florida avocado industry to see total volumes similar to last season’s, about 950,000 50-pound equivalent bushels.

Meanwhile, Neal Brooks, director of sales and marketing for Brooks Tropicals Inc., expects volumes to rise, citing early indications and noting avocados are an alternate bearing crop.

Walker, who’d seen some bloom drop from heavy winds in March and April, said yields for the early crop looked spotty. He said he doesn’t expect the industry to have volumes as heavy as last year.

All the same, he noted that late May rains should help with sizing.

Total shipments for the season will depend more on the later varieties, which last year yielded heavier than expected volumes, Walker said. In late May, with the threat of winds and rain still looming ahead, Walker said it was too early to forecast what the later varieties would bear.

“We’re subject this time of year to get some storms,” he said.

The state’s avocado season, which peaks in August and September, continues into January, Walker said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported total bearing acreage for the Florida avocado industry at 6,000 acres for the 2000-01 season and 5,900 for the 2001-02 season.