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