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US (CA): Winds and drought damage avocado and lemon crops

Strong winds have ripped avocados from the tress, and burned lemon rinds. Lack of rain has stunted growth, dehydrated trees have forced growers to irrigate at levels normally only seen in summertime.

Worse still, meteorologists are suggesting there is to be no improvement over the next few months.

"It's absolutely a nightmare," said Colette Swan, who owns 5 acres of avocados, about 450 trees, in Fillmore. "Every day I'm seeing dozens, up to 50, where I walk. It's like gold on the ground."

Together avocados and lemons account for nearly a third of the 125,000 acres of non-grazing agricultural land in the county and are its top two crops in terms of acreage, according to the Farm Bureau of Ventura County in Ventura.

The avocados littering the ground would sually sell for the high price of $2 per fruit.

In the Moorpark, Santa Paula and Saticoy growing areas of Leavens Ranches, avocado yields dropped because last spring's unseasonal cold prevented many flowers from producing fruit, said Moorpark manager David Schwabauer. Much of the fruit that did grow was later ripped off the trees by Santa Ana winds, Schwabauer said.

As a result, this year's avocado crop will drop to about 2,000 pounds per acre, an astonishing drop when compared to last years yield of around 15,000 pounds per acre, he said.

"It hurts — it's a significant drop in production," Schwabauer said.

Windy gusts and the near-drought conditions also affected Leavens Ranches' lemons. The lemons looked like "pin cushions" after winds pushed them onto the trees' thorny branches, and the wind burn and lack of rain stunted their growth, Schwabauer said.

All these factors significantly affect the value, he said. "Lemons need rain for size," Schwabauer said. "So when they don't have it they don't grow to sizes we'd like. Big fruit does best in the marketplace." As a result, only 20 percent of the spring and summer crop on the trees now will be first-grade quality for the Leavens Ranches' customer, Sunkist, he said.

The rest will be used for juice production. The citrus fruit rose 36 percent in value to $175 million in 2010.

Eric Boldt, meteorologist, said "It's the start of drought conditions." On the Oxnard Plain, you see fields being irrigated. That's an easy way of identifying that it's dry."

Others have fared better, however. Calavo Growers Inc. in Santa Paula hasn't seen any effects on a "significant" scale, said Chief Executive Officer and President Lee Cole. The company buys avocados from 600 growers in Ventura County.

As the rainy season nears its end this month and the harvesting season moves into full gear, farmers are getting uneasy. Many are concerned they will have to continue the near-constant irrigation, saying their expenses are nearly equal to summertime irrigation costs.

Source: www.vcstar.com

Publication date: 3/12/2012


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