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US (CA): Overall things are good in avocado sector

California harvested 535 million pounds of avocados in 2009-2010 and then dropped to around 300 million pounds in 2010-2011. This year growers are hoping to reach a happy medium and are predicting a crop of 400 million pounds.

Tom Bellamore, president of the California Avocado Commission says this s an ideal quantity when it come to marketing. He says the amount will ensure that the avocados are available in the right window - between April and September. In recent years demand has outstripped production.

"There is nice quality this year, as well as generally good sizing. So we are very optimistic about how growers might fare in terms of farmgate returns," he said. "Last year's farmgate value for avocados broke all records and we are hopeful that this will continue this year. Farmgate value for the crop overall was $460 million."

Almost all of California's avocados go for sale as fresh produce, mostly via retail. Bellamore said that avocados used for processing, for example, as guacamole, usually come from Mexico.

As a result of cooler weather this year the harvest began a few weeks later than usual. Avocado grower Charley Wolk of Fallbrook, a member of the avocado commission board of directors, said growers in the southern districts of San Diego and Riverside counties typically begin harvesting shortly after the Super Bowl in February—but not this year.

"After the Super Bowl, there is usually a slow ramp up of the California crop, but there was hardly any movement this year. By early May, I had only moved about 5 percent of the crop, but now things are picking up," he said. "Prices are strengthening slowly. Every day they go up a penny or two cents. Packers who are quoting a range might leave the upper end unchanged but raise the lower end, which to me is a strengthening."

Some growers are reporting mixed results this year, with some trees showing good crops and other being close to empty. Avocado grower Leslie Leavens Crowe said "This year's crop is better than last year, but the trees are still recovering from the huge crop they produced two years ago, so we are by no means up to full production that we would like to be seeing," she said. "We have some areas that have OK production, and some areas that are blank."

many involved in the sector are expressing their concern about labor shortages. Leavens Crowe said the labor force in Ventura County is so tight that her farm has shifted crews from avocados to lemons in order to harvest the vulnerable citrus more quickly.

Wolk said that growers who only produce avocados are in a better position when it comes to labor issues, as the produce can be left on the tree and does not need to be collected all at once.

"Unlike stone fruit, one of the advantages of this crop is that we growers can store the fruit on the tree. We actually have mature fruit in January and in September and October, which creates a huge window. For all practical purposes, the Hass avocado tree always has some fruit," he said.

For his part Bellamore said that the Avocado Commission is urging congress to enact immigration reforms that will ensure a plentiful supply of farm labor.

In San Diego there are concerns over the low water supply and the high costs it creates.

"Water down here is very expensive," Wolk said. "We conserve as much as we can."

Several growers went out of business in 2008 and 2009 after droughts struck the area. There are signs that the industry is recovering from this now, however.

Despite all of the challenges, Wolk said there is great optimism among avocado growers.

"I think the avocado sector in California is healthy. There are many growers who are apprehensive, mostly over the price of water, but if they make a commitment to aggressively farm, they can be very successful. The hesitancy comes from the fact that the things they need to do all cost money. They have to have confidence in the future," he said.

"We sell about 1.4 billion pounds of avocados in the United States every year and we have demand for 2 billion pounds. We simply cannot produce that many avocados. And that is just the U.S. market; if you look at the world market, the demand for avocados worldwide is such that I can't get my brain to comprehend it," Wolk said.

Source: agalert.com

Publication date: 6/6/2012


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