Donny Lucy, vice president of procurement and East Coast sales for Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., checks out California avocados at the company’s packing shed last season. California’s crop will be about half of what it was last year, according to the California Avocado Commission, but grower-shippers expect good-quality fruit. ( Tom Burfield )

Fruit size and quality should be exceptional for this year’s California’s avocado crop — though it’s on the smaller side.

This year’s crop volume is expected to reach only 170 million pounds, about half of last year’s 338 million pounds, according to the California Avocado Commission.

A crop half the size of last year’s is “really not good,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif.

“We’re going to have to squeeze it into a fairly short period and probably a smaller market,” he said.
Wedin estimated that only 10% to 15% of the crop will be started in April.

“Our peak is going to be May, June and July,” he said.

The good news is that California received significantly more rainfall than average, and that “definitely helps the crop,” Wedin said.

Crop volume is measured in part by the number of pieces of fruit and partly by the weight and size of the fruit.

The rain won’t bring on more fruit, but it helps the fruit bulk up, he said.

Fires and unusually high temperatures last summer were blamed for much of this season’s drop in volume.

Calavo will have slightly more volume than the industry average — about 55% of last year’s crop — Wedin said.

He expected the season to get underway later than usual and finish earlier.

“We often feel that our avocados are ready, and that the market is ready by March,” he said.

“This year, we will not reach double-digit percentages of our crop until April, with more than 60% of our harvest in May through July.

“On the quality side, it’s all positive,” Wedin said. “It’s the quantity that’s the problem.”

Growers hoping for a higher return because of the tighter crop may be disappointed, he said, because Mexico’s crop is expected to be 19% greater this year than last year between February and the end of June.

“For the year, Mexico is increasing more than California is decreasing,” he said.
Growers were ecstatic over this year’s rainfall.

“This year has been phenomenal,” said Phil Henry, president of Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif.
“Rain is really giving California groves a boost,” he said.

Precipitation was “dramatically above last year’s rainfall,” Henry said.

“We’re hopeful that this is a change in the rainfall pattern, and that we’ll have some higher rainfall in the years in the near future.”

Rain lowers the cost of farming while it enhances the quality of the water and improves the health of trees, he said.

Rain also sets up a stronger bloom for spring, he said, “which hopefully will lead to a good set and a larger crop for the following year.”

While the weather has been “cool and stormy,” Rankin McDaniel, owner and president of McDaniel Fruit Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif., said he did not expect temperatures to drop to dangerously low levels that would damage the trees or the fruit.

It was still early in the season, though, and growers hadn’t dropped their guard, he said.
“They still have their antennae up,” he said.

The quality of the fruit was “excellent” as of late February, he said, and the chilly weather could help growers hold the fruit on the tree for a longer period.

Some suppliers already were looking forward to next season.

“We’re optimistic about 2020,” said Gary Caloroso, business development director for Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos.

And he said tighter supplies of California avocados this season could warrant higher prices from buyers who want to promote California fruit this spring and summer.

“It means so much for them that they will want to pay for it,” he said.

Eco Farms, Temecula, Calif., has added some grower partners this season, which should help the company make up some of this year’s shortfall, said Gahl Crane, sales director.

“Quality is great,” Crane said, and there has been a more balanced size curve.

“That way we can cover programs with different sizes, not just small fruit or just big fruit,” he said.