Flash back a year to the border dividing northern San Diego and southern Riverside counties in Southern California.

Get ready for a California avocado-flavored Super Bowl

Don Schrack
Staff Writer

It’s avocado growing country — providing growers get enough irrigation water, which it turns out most didn’t, and providing there is no fruit-killing freeze. Well, one out of two does not a profit make, especially when preseason 2009 estimates figure the best the state will do is just over 200 million pounds, well below the industry’s average.

There are more long faces in avocado groves than the organist sees during a week of funerals. Then it gets worse — the crop estimate was too optimistic by about 30%, and the 2009 season postscript was a couple of heat waves and a day of howling winds.

Now it’s fall 2009. The season is shaping up to be a winner.

“The crop looks great,” said Rick Shade, a Santa Barbara County grower-shipper who will soon step down after two years as chairman of the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission’s board of directors.

“The volume is good, the quality is outstanding, and we’re getting some early sizing.”

The commission’s pre-season crop estimate is 470 million pounds, about triple the 2009 deal. That’s enough avocados to supply more than just the western states.

“We’ll be able to satisfy demand in the Midwest and in more eastern areas,” said Jan DeLyser, the commission’s vice president of marketing. “We’re reaching out to key accounts who have expressed a preference for California avocados.”

Making the picture even brighter for retailers is the commission’s marketing budget, said Tom Bellamore, commission president.

“The budget the board approved will let us do a bang-up marketing job,” he said. “Two-thirds of the commission’s overall budget will be spent on marketing. That’s a record high percentage.”

The marketing budget is particularly eye-popping in that Bellamore took over a troubled commission and fine-tuned its priorities by cutting staff, putting the focus on marketing and still maintaining production research and industry affairs budgets.

For avocado lovers, the prognosis is for a long California season.

“The harvest will probably get started in January in San Diego and Riverside counties,” said Charley Wolk, a Fallbrook grower-shipper.

That’s five months earlier than the launch of this year’s harvest.

“We’re going to start earlier than in recent years, and we’re going to be in the market longer,” Shade said.

The harvest will begin to peak in late February and grower-shippers will have good supplies of avocados at least through September, DeLyser said.

 The coastal season usually starts a few months after the southern region, but northern growers will have to do some select picking earlier than usual, Shade said.

“We have to get the big fruit off the trees to let the smaller stuff size,” he said. “And some of my neighbors are going to have to pick so that the trees don’t break.”

 Perhaps it was an omen that the avocados endured the heat and blustery weather.

“We had some hellacious winds, but the fruit stayed on the trees,” Shade said.

Another advantage is the ever growing popularity of avocados.

“We’re very fortunate that the demand is still very, very high and exceeds supply,” Wolk said. “The demand is very healthy, and even refreshing.”

So, with the start of the California avocado season just around the corner, shoppers may want to do a little rehearsing for those Super Bowl parties. After all, 470 million pounds of avocados makes for a nice batch of guacamole.

E-mail dschrack@thepacker.com

What's your take on California's 2009 avocado season and the upcoming one? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.