Weather, other issues nip avocado industry - The Packer

Weather, other issues nip avocado industry

08/17/2009 03:21:21 PM
Jim Offner

Weather and other woes of last year have come back to haunt California’s avocado industry this year.

“We’re going to be light on volume, if we have anything at all,” Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission, said during the summertime peak.

A short crop was the result of a number of factors that came into play a year earlier, DeLyser said.

“It was partly water-related, partly weather-related and partly fire-related,” she said. “We had less volume, mostly out of the south. Some areas actually got some hail during bloom. We had some scalping of trees because of water reduction in the south.”

Some growers scaled back trees, “scalping them to where they cut them back to a trunk,” DeLyser said.

It will take a couple of years for those trees to come back, she said.

There were heat spells that led to problems, as well, DeLyser noted.

“Timing of some heat that caused drops in the early summer months of last year, a little bit of hail caused damage during bloom,” she said. “And we had fires a year ago in October in too numerous avocado growing areas to mention. That caused some acreage reduction, as well.”

About 95% of California’s avocado production is the hass variety, DeLyser said.

Still, when the final count of the crop is in, production will have reached 200 million pounds, DeLyser said.

But, she said, there will be much more than that in the marketplace, thanks largely to contributions from Mexico, Chile and the Dominican Republic.

“We’re looking at more than 1.2 billion (pounds) in the next couple of years,” she said. “It’s totally within reason to think that within three to five years, the U.S. marketplace will be consuming 1.5 billion, heading towards 2 billion in the years thereafter.”

What fruit was coming through in mid-July was high-quality, said Avi Crane, president of Prime Produce International LLC, Orange, Calif.

“The California crop is going into its peak period, where the fruit is just very tasty,” he said. “The consumer is getting a great product.”

California shippers have been able to find enough supply, in spite of the relatively lean crop in the state, said Rankin McDaniel, owner of McDaniel Fruit Co., Fallbrook, Calif.

“The crop out of California is on the small side this year, and we had challenges getting proper product distribution out there, but we’ve been able to position our Mexican avocado operation to bridge the gaps, if there were any gaps,” McDaniel said. “So, in putting these pieces together, we’ve had a successful avocado marketing season.”

That’s because demand for the product has doubled in the last 15 years or so, DeLyser said.

“It’s really interesting. I’ve been around awhile, and I can think back to when avocados were considered an exotic tropical item,” she said. “Interestingly enough, if you look at retail dollars for avocados by holiday and event, Super Bowl and Cinco de Mayo actually bounce back and forth as to which event is the leading eating occasion for avocados, depending on the year and the supply that’s available.”

This year, for example, about 63.7 million pounds of avocados were consumed during Cinco de Mayo, DeLyser noted.

In 2007, the Super Bowl accounted for 63.1 million pounds of consumption, she said.

Marketing groups are starting to focus on other occasions, now, DeLyser said.

“There are a lot of groups that will be focused on the other windows of opportunities,” she said.

Prices were reaching into the upper $40 range in some cases, some California shippers noted.

Supplies have been adequate at Escondio, Calif.-based Henry Avocado, said Phil Henry, president.

“I think we’ve been adequately supplying customers but certainly haven’t had additional product available to do any aggressive promotions,” Henry said. “The California crop estimate was significantly overstated, so the state has come up with less fruit than anticipated.”

Harvest continued at a steady rate into mid-July, Henry noted.

“But we’re expecting it to decline dramatically in August,” he said. “In early August, we expect arrivals from Chile to be fairly significant in volume.”

The California season has not been without its challenges, said Dana Thomas, president of Index Fresh Inc., Bloomington, Calif.

“This year has been a good year, but it’s been a difficult year out of California because of lack of volume,” he said. “It looks like that will remedy itself next year. Chile was a little light but, combined with Mexico, we’ve had promotable volumes.”

Chilean and Mexican fruit will fill any fall and winter gaps that California leaves behind, Thomas said.

“For the fall, we expect to have all three origins in August and heading into September, we’ll have Chilean and Mexican fruit, and that will carry into January or February,” he said.

The California crop will give way in earnest to the imported product before Labor Day, Henry said.

“We should see pretty good arrivals in mid-August, which will allow us to do some pretty good Labor Day promotions with Chilean fruit,” he said.

The California hass harvest for 2009 is projected by the California Avocado Commission as the lowest in 2 decades — 210 millions pounds, compared to the record crop of 600 million in 2006.

“We do not expect to see any significant volume of California hass during the remainder of 2009,” said Avi Crane, president of Orange, Calif.-based Prime Produce International LLC.

California to be ready to receive the first harvest in January.

Rob Wedin, Calavo Growers, Santa Paula, Calif., said California growers were able to reap good prices on a consistent basis.

“It has worked out very well,” he said. “California growers were able to get some good prices after expecting a double whammy of lower prices and lower volume.”

Wedin noted demand continues to increase.

“You can run across category materials that show it’s true,” he said.



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