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

Crop loss was reported in California avocado groves after temperatures soared past 115 degrees in growing regions July 6.

Avocado groves in San Diego County’s Pauma Valley and Temecula suffered from the heat, said Bob Lucy, partner with Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif.

“Everybody’s afraid to really put a number on it because we really don’t know,” he said. “It may have been the worst heat spell that I’ve seen in my years in the industry.” 

Fruit drop associated with the heat is expected to reduce the supply and perhaps increase the price of California avocados marketed in August, though suppliers expect some volume to extend to Labor Day.

The July 6 heat was devastating, said Enrico Ferro, avocado grower in Valley Center, Calif. In 2016, temperatures soared over 115 for two days in June, but this year’s hot spell seemed to cause just as many problems, he said. 

Some trees have leaves that are burned on the tips.

“I’ve got trees that are definitely going to die,” Ferro said.

Industry leaders say the heat event could also ding 2019 avocado production, though by how much is uncertain.

“The good news was (the heat) wasn’t sustained over a long period of time, but there certainly were some very hot temperatures,” said Tom Bellamore, president of the California Avocado Commission, noting reports of temperatures as high as 118 degrees in the Piru and Fillmore regions. 

“That’s always a concern, both for the current harvest and also for the crop that the trees are carrying for the following year,” Bellamore said.

In the southern growing regions of San Diego and Riverside counties, Bellamore said harvest was about 85% finished when the heat socked groves. To date, California growers have harvested about 260 million pounds of fruit.

Bellamore said the state’s avocado harvest this season was earlier projected at 350 million pounds, but some industry leaders have lowered their estimate to 320 million or lower.

The heat caused some fruit drop, especially toward the outside of avocado trees, while fruit on the inside was better protected from the heat.

“Some growers had quite a bit of drop, but others made it through just fine,” he said.

Temperatures near 100 aren’t uncommon in avocado growing areas, but Jim Donovan, senior vice president of global sourcing for Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce, said the temperature spike to 115 and higher caused damage similar to a hard freeze to avocado leaves, stems, branches and fruit.

Donovan said damage estimates are not yet clear but that some fruit was lost for the 2018 harvest, which he said was about 75% to 80% done as of July 19.

“There will definitely be some lost pounds for the industry so that the crop estimate will come down a little bit more,” he said. 

He estimated the final harvest for the state may be close to 300 million pounds this year.

Market uptick?

California avocado shipments will slow into August, Bellamore said. Shipments of about 13 million pounds per week in early July will fade to 10 million pounds by mid-July. By the middle of August, California shipments will sharply drop off, he said.

The heat on July 6 may have caused damage to as much as 30% of the crop remaining on the trees and caused a 10% reduction in the total crop, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing with Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc.

Fortunately, he said a good portion of the remaining crop was in cooler areas, north and toward the coast.

Lucy said all California packers were being careful not to pack damaged fruit.

“Most of us in the industry are treating it the same way as sort of like a freeze, to sit back and let the trees recover,” he said. “If the fruit is damaged enough it’s going to drop on the ground.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported California hass size 48s were trading at $40-43 per carton on July 18, compared with $48-50 per carton the same time a year ago.

Donovan said the California avocado market may strengthen as volume comes down in August, though supply from Peru will be arriving in peak volumes in early August and Mexico volume will also be in the market.

“We’re hoping for a really strong August to California fruit,” Lucy said.

Wedin said about two-thirds of Peru’s fruit comes to the East Coast, while California avocados are marketed mostly on the West Coast. “We believe we’ll see a slight strengthening or stabilization of California prices within a week or so,” he said July 17.