By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer

Brooks Tropicals Inc., one of the largest papaya importers, is letting its customers know it has recovered from last fall’s hurricane damage and that production is returning to normal.

The Homestead, Fla.-based papayas and tropicals grower-shipper is rebounding from Hurricane Dean, which struck Brooks’ Belize growing regions last August. When shipments return to normal, Brooks plans to ship more papaya than it has ever shipped, said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing.

“On paper, our volume projections look like a hockey stick,” Ostlund said. “Volumes were so low the last couple of months, and now there’s a big upswing in the works. It’s exciting to watch and exciting to know we’re back in the market.”

Because they couldn’t buy Brooks’ papayas, many supermarkets removed papayas from their shelves, Ostlund said. She said the company knew many customers were holding back on their papaya purchases because they weren’t getting the quality they wanted.

After the storm knocked down trees and sheared other trees into stumps, Brooks lost up to 95% of its January and February shipments but by March began shipping 41% of normal month of shipments, Ostlund said.

By April, Brooks was shipping 64% of a normal crop and in June, Brooks plans to improve shipments up to 88% of normal and fully return to normal shipments in July, when it expects to hit 106% of normal movement, she said.

While Brooks harvests and ships papayas throughout the year, shipments normally peak in July. Springtime has historically been a favorable time for retail promotions, Ostlund said.

New seedlings Brooks planted have increased disease and insect resistance and possess higher brix and sweetness levels. The improved fungus resistance has helped improve papaya quality, Ostlund said. More resistant plants keep the fruit looking good and helps extend shelf life, she said.

Outside of resetting trees and new seedling planting, the grower was rebuilding its Belize operations.

A new facility, which includes eight separate buildings for new machinery and handling new food safety procedures, was scheduled to officially reopen in late May.

The company broke ground on the operation in mid-August, a week before Hurricane Dean struck. Sustaining only slight damage, Brooks quickly resumed construction the next week, Ostlund said.

In July, Brooks also plans to celebrate its two decades of being in the Belize papaya business.

From its 1,300 acres, Brooks expects to ship 2.2 million 32-pound boxes of papayas this next year beginning in July, Ostlund said.