California wildfire damage to avocados slowly coming into focus

Following last week’s half-dozen wildfires that traveled through Southern California, local avocado growers are still assessing how deep the damage is in their avocado groves.

“I’ve been in the county extensively touring groves, meeting with growers who were impacted and it’s all across the board. The impact varies even within groves so it’s difficult to get accurate numbers,” says Ken Melban of the California Avocado Commission. “But I can tell you that 4,500 acres were within the perimeter of the fire. But not all those acres got burned and even if they did get touched by the fire, there’s tremendous varying degrees of damage.” 

Varying damage
In total, Melban estimates that hundreds of acres were burned but that number, for now, still remains under 1,000.

The damage can range from fully burning the tree and fruit to heating up the trees' internal system and more. “If we see fruit that’s burned, then obviously that fruit is done,” says Melban. “What the unknown is: what’s happening structurally to the tree and the roots and is the tree going to continue to produce or is it going to have to be cut out and replanted.” For example, one grower Melban toured last week believed that after the fire passed through them, their trees looked fine. “But as of yesterday, some of them are developing boils at the trunk of the tree indicating that tree did get hit hard and it’s not going to survive and produce.”

While the picture of the damage will get clearer a month or so from now even, the full impact might not be seen until spring. “Because maybe the trees look good but are we going to see them push buds for next year’s fruit?” Melban asks.

Federal help

In the meantime, the CAC is working with the federal Farm Service Agency to get growers and farmers lined up with federal relief for affected growers. “And as of yesterday, we had 40 appointments made and that number is growing,” says Melban.

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