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Rains offered relief
Avocado growers await official figures on California fire damage
California avocado growers are still awaiting formal assessments to fully determine the extent of damage to crops relating to the wildfires that impacted the state late last month. The Thomas Fire, as it was known, severely affected both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
"It's still too early to know how extensive the damage from the fires has been on avocado crops," said Gary Clevenger, of Freska Produce. "The California Avocado Commission are still out surveying and talking to growers. This indicates they are still gathering data and yet to determine the numbers. We can expect that they will most likely release these at their next meeting. Trees have definitely been lost but it's not been total devastation. The damage was mostly around the perimeter, where there was less protection. At this stage, based on what we know, we estimate a 20% - 30% downgrade on original crop projections."
It's not just the fire itself that growers say has damaged crops, but also the wind that initially caused the blaze. "The winds have caused damage as significant as the actual fire," Clevenger added. "The winds in both the northern and southern California growing regions reached 50 mph up to a high of 70 mph, causing fruit to fall off trees as well as subject the trees to wind burn."
As growers get back into production, recent conditions have been favorable. While last week's heavy caused some delays in the fields, it provided welcome relief for producers. For the avocados, it will mean better sizing and good nourishment for trees moving forward after a dry fall.
"We've just had a nice dose of rain, which will help the farmers out and also size up the fruit nicely," Clevenger said. "Once the fields dry out, the farmers can continue production and we should see more fruit again from next week."
Market softens from highs but set to remain steady
After the avocado market reached high levels a few weeks ago, prices have softened as more fruit enters the market. Suppliers are expecting these levels to be maintained for some time. There is a good amount of product coming in from Mexico, just as demand holds firm.
"The market has come off quite a bit in the last few weeks," Clevenger noted. "Prices on Mexican fruit are sitting anywhere between $20 - $34, depending on size. This is down from the high $40s to mid $30s a few weeks back. The market should remain steady for a while as the price is at a point where it is providing good movement. Demand is holding at good levels and we have some promotions now being prepared for the Super Bowl starting towards the end of January. We have plenty of promotable stock and a lot of fruit at the border for promotions going forward."
Clevenger also observed that there is a sign freight rates might be starting to ease, based on the availability of trucks. "We are hoping that freight rates should come down in the coming weeks," he said. "It won't go down to the level we saw last year but there seems to be more availability of trucks as of recent days."
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