Americans ate 2 billion pounds of avocados last year, two-thirds of which were imported, mostly from Mexico. That’s because avocados grow year-round in Mexico’s climate, but not in California’s. But researchers in the Golden State -America’s biggest producer of the green fruit- are working to change that.
Currently, most California avocados are grown in the southern part of the state and on a narrow strip along the coast. But if avocados could grow in the Central Valley, the state’s agricultural powerhouse, farmers there could reap the benefits of our avocado addiction, as well as stand out among foreign imports.
For more than 20 years, researcher Mary Lu Arpaia has been on a mission to find an avocado tree that can withstand the Central Valley's frosty winters and hot summers. At a test field east of the Central Valley city of Visalia, Arpaia thinks she's found three varieties that can do just that.
"There's a void of California fruit on the market in the months of November, December and early January," Arpaia says. "So if we can find different selections that maybe are unique that fit into that window, then we help the entire California avocado industry."
Ninety-five percent of all the avocados Americans eat are Hass, a variety discovered in California in the 1920s. But the climate of the Central Valley does not allow Hass avocados to grow as well as they do in the milder climates of coastal and Southern California. Even in these locations, Hass only grow at certain times of the year — and not enough to compete with the large amount coming in from foreign markets.
The goal is to breed varieties that aren't super tall, can be planted close to each other and have a high yield. One type Arpaia and her colleague, Eric Focht, are recommending to growers has all these traits. It's called GEM, the great granddaughter of the Hass avocado, and is already sold at nurseries.