Temperatures above 115 on July 6 caused fruit drop and stressed trees in some California avocado growing regions. ( Photo courtesy Enrico Ferro )

A heatwave in early July put a crimp in California’s avocado volume, but as temperatures dropped from the 110-degree-plus range and the groves started cooling down, growers seemed pleased with the product they had.

As of the end of July, California growers had shipped about 270 million pounds of avocados, the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission reported.

“The total crop for 2017-18 is now projected at about 300 million pounds,” said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing.

Earlier this year, the projected total for the season was about 375 million pounds.

Last year’s crop was 215 million pounds.

“By mid-August, we will probably have about 20 million pounds to ship,” DeLyser said.

“The heat caused some damage to the fruit, but we are seeing some tree recovery occurring since the early July extreme heat conditions,” she said in late July.

Groves in the eastern growing areas dropped about 30% of their fruit during the heatwave.

No one was glad to see the heatwave, but Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., said there was a silver lining for the fruit that survived.

Heatwaves tend to drop the weakest fruit, he said.

“Three weeks after a real surge of heat, the packouts look fantastic,” he said.

Groves in the eastern growing areas dropped about 30% of their fruit during the heatwave, he said.

“We went through a rough week and a half.”

Pickers couldn’t harvest fruit during the extreme temperatures, but they went back into the groves as temperatures dipped into the 80s and 90s and managed to pick some good-quality fruit, Wedin said.

Picking should be finished by the end of August.

Most groves closer to the coast still had good supplies remaining in late July.

Wedin estimated that 20% of the crop remained to be harvested at that time.

Picking should be finished by the end of August, he said.

The heat the groves experienced was a “historic event,” said Dana Thomas, president of Index Fresh Inc., Riverside, Calif.

Some areas reached temperatures of 118-122 degrees, he said.

“It doesn’t matter what crop that is, there’s going to be an impact,” he said.

Growers had to adjust the way they were harvesting, cooling and packing the fruit.

“That all worked, and we made it through,” he said.

The period from July 6-9 was “bad news,” said Phil Henry, president of Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif.

Henry estimated that he lost about half of the fruit that was on the trees when the heatwave hit. But he said he already had harvested more than 80% of his volume.

In some groves, all the fruit already had been picked, he said.

“We’re completely finished now with our harvest in the south,” he said July 26.

The company still was packing fruit from the northern growing areas.

Prices of two-layer flats of California avocados on Aug. 1 were mostly $48.25-50.25 for sizes 32, 36, 40 and 48, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A year earlier, they were mostly $57.25-60.25 for 48s.

I don’t think you can go for two days like that regardless of what you’re growing and not have some impact.

Growers agreed that there likely will be some long-term damage to the trees because of the heat, but they said it was too soon to tell what the extent of that damage will be.

“I don’t think you can go for two days like that regardless of what you’re growing and not have some impact,” Thomas said.

Wedin said Calavo will do as good a job as it can on the 2018 crop before worrying about next year.

“I think there will be some damage,” he said, “but we’re not ready to assess it yet.”

California’s avocado crop was due for an off year next season even before the heat damage, Henry said.

How much of a decrease there might be “is impossible to predict right now,” he said.

 
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