By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer

Florida avocado grower-shippers expect a typical season with volume a little lower than last year's.

Growers of the large, green-skin avocados began light pickings in late May. The state's pickings normally start by the end of May and increase in mid-June with promotable volume hitting during July and August. The deal normally ends in January with lighter volumes in February.

Florida is expected to ship 900,000 to 950,000 bushels during the 2008-09 season, says Alan Flinn, administrator of the Homestead-based Florida Avocado Administrative Committee, which oversees the federal Florida avocado marketing order.

That's slightly less than last year's 1.2 million bushels.

"We think it is a healthy crop," says Bill Brindle, vice president of sales management for Brooks Tropicals Inc. "It should be almost a normal crop and a normal season."

Brindle calls this season an alternate-bearing year that should produce smaller volume than last season's bumper crop.

Brooks, which began harvesting a small volume of its early fruit May 19, expects to begin promotable-volume shipments during the second or third week of June, Brindle says. Volume should increase exponentially every week until mid-August, the deal's typical peak, he says.

Retailers should expect ample volume for July and August promotions, Brindle says.

While 2006-07 was an abnormally high production year, it followed lower pickings in 2005-06 caused by destructive hurricanes that struck the south Florida growing region.

Brooks plans to ship 500,000 bushels this season, 85 percent of the 570,000 bushels it shipped last year.

New Limeco LLC, Princeton, expects to begin shipments June 9.

Early varieties should produce a quality crop while later varieties could make the deal more sluggish or lighter in volume, says Herbert Yamamura, general manager.

"Summer varieties will be similar to last season," he says. "Once the rainy season hits (in June), they will start sizing. Once it starts going, they will size up fast."

Early-season pickings normally produce smaller-sized fruit while trees bear larger fruit toward the later months. In July, 12s are common and 10s dominate in August and September, shippers says.

Eddie Caram, New Limeco's sales manager, says this year's growing season has been marked by very dry conditions. The region, however, received a couple of inches of rain during the week of May 19.

Because shipments had not begun in large volumes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wasn't reporting Florida prices in late May.

Florida's deal normally starts at $15-18 per 12.5-pound flat. Yamamura says he expects prices to steadily decline each week by $2 from the $18 season open to $10-12 a flat, typical for the beginning months of the season.

During the peak of last season, shippers in late August reported receiving $5.50 a flat, down from the $7.50 a flat they received during the same time in 2006.

Brindle says he expects this season's pricing to be somewhat between last season's crop, which sold at a discount, and 2006's stronger prices caused by lower-than-normal production.

Shippers expect growers to start picking the early arue and donnie varieties by early June.

New Limeco sells for 16 growers who grow on 1,000 acres. This year, New Limeco expects to ship 200,000 bushels, similar to last season.

Caram says shippers remain concerned about competing Dominican Republic production, which typically ships during the summer. Dominican Republic growers have been increasingly entering the market earlier each season and remaining in the deal later than normal. That change, Caram says, has taken away Florida's shipments to Puerto Rico and made for more avocados remaining in the U.S.

Mary Ostlund, Brooks' director of marketing, says the season looks favorable.

"Everything about this year has been good," Ostlund says May 27. "Everything is kind of laid the way for marketing a successful crop. This should be a good year for everyone in avocados, from growers to grocers."

Florida has produced an average 797,000 bushels since the 2003-04 season. Last year's 1.2 million bushels was the highest since the 2002-03 season, according to the USDA. Florida's avocado production normally accounts for 9 percent of U.S. avocado acreage.