Despite a drop in production at the beginning of the season, the avocado sector in Morocco ended on a positive note, with volumes almost beating the historical record, and a total production of 40,000 tons. With Zouhir Daissoria, an expert in the cultivation of avocados and CEO of First Green Land, we dive into the specificity of the season in terms of varieties produced and exported.
According to Zouhir, at the production level, there was no notable difference in the share of each variety compared to the previous seasons, "The varieties that are most used in Morocco are Hass, Fuerte, Zutano, Lamb Hass, Bacon, and more rarely Pinkerton. According to my calculations, the variety Hass is the most produced with 71.8% of national production, Fuerte 12.5%, Zutano 7%, Lamb Hass 5.5%, and Bacon 3.2%. It should be noted that these figures are not 100% accurate since they reflect the situation of exporters; the sale in the domestic market is difficult to trace." The exported volumes constitute 90% of domestic production.
Until this season, according to Zouhir, "the trend among the majority of Moroccan producers is to plant up to 80-85% of their acreage in Hass, and the rest in Fuerte and Zutano for grafting purposes. There is a minority of producers who have a more thoughtful choice based on observation and real-time analysis of the market, which then translates into more precise production choices."
While the 2022/2023 season has not seen notable changes in production, it has been marked by changes in marketing. Zouhir explains: "Because of the low production at the beginning of the season, European customers were forced to accept shipments of the Fuerte variety. Previously, European markets did not accept much of this variety, which was sold only in Russia and in the local Moroccan market. So we have seen more exports of Fuerte at the expense of Zutano."
The determinant in the choice of varieties remains simple; it is a question of which varieties are exportable to Europe, and then the selling price. "It is the market that guides the production. When we know that the price of Hass is 7 to 12 MAD higher than the next variety in the ranking, while the cost of production is the same, and agricultural operations are the same, we quickly understand why Hass is a champion in Morocco." (1 EUR ≈ 11 MAD)
The season that just ended was also marked by another novelty at the commercial level. The price of Lamb Hass has reached an unprecedented level, up to 33 MAD per kilo at the farm gate, while Fuerte is sold at 26 MAD, and Hass at 35 MAD, according to Zouhir. "This is a remarkable performance for Lamb Hass, which started at 11 MAD last year and at 25 MAD this year. We can expect Lamb Hass to surpass Zutano and Fuerte next year. The final customer in the UK buys Hass and Lamb Hass at the same price, even if Lamb Hass leaves Morocco at a lower price. This is proof that the two varieties can be interchangeable."
According to previous statements by grower representatives, the choice of varieties is also moving in the direction of lengthening the season by implementing late production. "Producers around the world want to extend their season to achieve production throughout the year. There is much development work in this direction, and we can see other varieties appear. In Morocco, the avocado season ends in April, and the producers want to extend it until July. It should be noted that the fruit must reach a threshold of dry matter to be exportable, which is 21%. In Morocco, the key to extending the season may be through the Lamb Hass."
According to producer sources, so far European importers have been reluctant to buy Lamb Hass from Morocco while UK importers were buying it, prompting producers to explore other options such as Malama. However, we are learning this season that trade moods can change quickly.
Zouhir continues, "Lamb Hass adapts well to its environment, and it is genetically designed for that. It reaches the dry matter threshold quite late, around January 15, whereas Hass reaches this threshold as early as November. This is a 2-3 month difference. This year, Hass export started on October 25, while Lamb Hass export started on January 17. Hass holds in the trees until April before gaining too much fat and maturity which reduces its shelf life. Lamb Hass, on the other hand, can last until June."
This is another reason for Lamb Hass to gain in production share, besides the selling price, which is its resilience both in the tree and in transit, according to Zouhir. "Its skin is thicker than other varieties, which better protects the fruit." To further enable the season to be extended, Zouhir also recommends more suitable operations, "we can also train the trees, delaying the harvest each year a little later, so that the tree is prepared for a late harvest."
The main criticism of the avocado industry in Morocco is that it is hydrovore, even though the country is experiencing persistent drought. Can the choice of varieties go also in the direction of lower water consumption? Negative, according to Zouhir: "In terms of water consumption, there are no big differences between varieties. On the contrary, whatever the variety adopted for late production, it will translate into higher water consumption, which implies that Lamb Hass will be the water consumption champion. A tree full of fruit requires 45 min to 1 hour of irrigation daily, and a late production in Morocco coincides with the summer period, which requires more irrigation, with an additional spray system above the tree."