California fruit ripens on the tree. Despite wild fires, high winds and more, California's avocado industry expects to produce 374.6 million pounds of fruit this season. ( Photo courtesy Index Fresh )

Volume should be up, and prices should be down compared to last year as the 2018 California avocado season kicks off.

This year’s anticipated volume of 374.6 million pounds is significantly higher than last year’s 215.8 million pounds, said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission.


Weather, fire

As spring approaches, however, drought conditions were reappearing after an unusually wet 2016-17 rainy season. The lack of rain is expected to result in some small-sized fruit, especially early in the season.

The state’s avocado crop took a relatively small hit from the massive Thomas fire that ravaged Ventura and Santa Barbara counties starting in early December and continuing into January, DeLyser said.

High winds also caused some fruit drop.

At Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc., Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing, lamented the lack of precipitation but was optimistic for the season.

“We have not gotten the rain we need,” he said Feb. 20. “The fruit is beginning to mature, but it’s not growing.”

At some point, that fruit will have to be picked, whether it’s growing or not, he said.


Ramping up

Volume was light in February, which is typical, he said, but he anticipates some “pretty big weeks coming up” as California’s crop combines with product still in the market from Mexico.

Some Southern California growing areas faced some unusually cold weather in late February as temperatures dropped below freezing in some areas, said Robb Bertels, vice president of marketing for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

Fortunately, “There haven’t been long periods of sustained cold,” he said.

He was hopeful that the region had seen the last of the frigid temperatures by the end of February.

Mission Produce started picking in early January for its export program to Asia, Bertels said.

By the end of February, the industry was shipping 2 million to 4 million pounds per week, and he expects volume to steadily increase in March and April until movement eventually reaches about 10 million pounds per week.

Supplies were slowly ramping up as growers waited for sizing to improve, he said.

“We should have a pretty good spring and early summer,” he said.

Bertels expected Mission Produce to have an “increasing share of the crop from California” this season, and he said this year’s larger crop might stretch well through summer.

Volume should be up by 50% at Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif., said president Phil Henry.

Quality should be excellent from Henry Avocado, he said, because of the company’s exceptional farming practices.

“(Trees) get all the care that produces high-quality fruit,” he said.

Eco Farms Corp., Temecula, Calif., should have a strong crop this season, said Steve Taft, co-owner and president.

Like other grower-shippers, he expects smaller sizes than usual for early fruit because of the large crop and lack of rain.

Prices should be lower this season than last year because of the heavier crop, he said.

Last year, f.o.b. prices for two-layer cartons of size 48 avocados from Southern California in early March were $51.25-55.25 and $51.25-54.25 for size 60s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This year, they were mostly $38.25-40.25 for 48s and mostly $31.25-33.25 for size 60s.

Growers typically don’t want to see light crops with high prices or “huge crops with super-low prices,” Taft said.

Instead, they prefer “something in the middle.”

The trade was discouraged last year because of high prices prompted by California’s small crop, and Mexico’s crop was smaller than the previous year’s for the first time in 10 years, Calavo’s Wedin said.

“There just weren’t enough promotion opportunities,” he said.

But that should change this year, he said.

“The love of avocados has returned.”