(Oct. 25) Despite reports of up to a third of California’s avocado acreage damaged by fires, the industry would still have plenty of fruit to supply the needs for the Super Bowl in February and Cinco de Mayo, according to the California Avocado Commission, Irvine.

“Everything north of Los Angeles has not burned,” Guy Whitney, director of industry affairs for Irvine-based California Avocado Commission, said Oct. 24. “And the bulk of our new acreage over the last five years has been in that area. So we have a lot of acreage that in the next one to two years will come into full production and will put us right back where we were, even if we lose a third of acreage that’s in San Diego County.”

Jay Van Rein, spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said the Office of Emergency Services estimated 20,000 acres of avocado groves had been destroyed as of Oct. 24.

“I think it’s based on where the fires are, and they’re not burning every acre in a circle on the map. So there may be a lot of spaces in the middle that are skipped,” Van Rein said.

Whitney said there are 65,000 acres of avocados in California, with 35,000 in the fire area. He said he has been communicating with individual growers by e-mail and text messages, but he’s unable to verify actual damaged acres.

Jose Luis Obregon, managing director of the Hass Avocado Board, Irvine, said initial estimates of California production are still coming in, but he said retailers have to feel comfortable that there will be sufficient product for promotional activities, particularly for the Super Bowl and Cinco de Mayo.

“The category will not be affected,” he said. “We saw that with the freeze this year and in Chile. There is always fruit in the marketplace. Somebody always steps up to the plate.”

He said the figures the media are reporting are premature.

“But even if it’s true there will be fruit from California during those promotional periods,” he said.

Bob Lucy, part owner of Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, said hundreds of homes had burned in the town, but couldn’t be sure about how the avocado groves around the area were affected.

“Everybody was evacuated,” he said. “All of our employees at the packinghouse had to leave and all the loading guys are with families in Riverside County or Los Angeles.”

Steven Taft, president and owner of Eco-Farm Corp. in Temecula, said his employees have been using the company’s own fire truck to fight the fires around their groves for three days.

“I wouldn’t even know how to come up with a number (of losses). You can’t get in touch with people because a lot of them are defending their houses and groves,” he said. “In Fallbrook alone 21,000 avocado trees have been burned up. That’s what the TV stations are saying and I believe that’s pretty close. That’s about 150 acres.”

He said what wasn’t burned around Fallbrook has been affected by the wind.

“This is going to be a hard blow to the California avocado industry,” he said.

Whitney said the landscape of avocado acreage could change in Southern California, but he emphasized the importance of recent expansions.

“As an industry we’ve seen a lot of expansion in the north with very large new plantings in southern San Luis Obispo County, in the Santa Paula area, where basically all the valencia oranges have been pulled out and replaced with avocados.”

He said that even though there will be plenty of California avocados for Super Bowl and Cinco de Mayo, there will most likely be a shortage by the end of next summer.

“Then Mexico will come in with a lot of force,” he said.