Within five years, Pharr, Texas-based Villita Avocados plans to have 100 acres of hass/greenskin hybrid varieties growing under shade protection in south Texas.
Michael DeBerry, sales representative for the company, said it began shipping light volume of Lone Star State greenskin lula variety avocados under the Villita brand in late January from trees that were planted decades ago.
The company — an importer of Mexican avocados that is a subsidiary of Mexican avocado exporter AgroExport Avocados LLC — is testing its limited Texas avocado program in the Houston area to gauge reaction.
DeBerry said Walmart will participate with a “test run” of Texas avocados in early February.
Texas avocados are harvested during the winter and, longer-term, will fit in well with promotions for the Super Bowl, he said.
“The initial ones we are doing right now are actually a greenskin variety,” he said.
DeBerry said the firm is in the early stages of preparing to plant hass/greenskin hybrids under a high-density shade grove near the Gulf Coast in south Texas. The hybrids have no particular name yet, he said, and the company is still considering the combination of varieties to use. The company is sharing information with researchers at Texas A & M and the University of California in Riverside in their efforts to identify hybrid varieties that could thrive in south Texas, he said.
He declined to specify the exact location of the south Texas plantings.
DeBerry said that avocados were tried in Texas during 1940-1960s. Some California investors came to Texas to try growing the fruit and a Texas Avocado Society was formed to encourage development of the industry. However, the industry wilted after a hard freeze in the 1960s, DeBerry said. Some of the greenskin lula variety trees — some planted as many as 80 years ago — remain today.
“There are several fields (of greenskin avocados) still around, and over the last couple of years we have been working with Texas A&M University researchers in Weslaco to come up with a program to see whether or not we can make them commercially viable again,” he said.
DeBerry said there are more advanced growing techniques available now that could create new opportunities for Texas avocados.
Selecting the right patch of land is one key to growing in Texas and growing under shade is another, he said.
“Growing under shade, under the netting, will greatly help and restrict the light and heat problems we have,” he said.
He said he doesn’t anticipate freezing temperatures to be a concern, because the new high-density planting is located near the coast, which is five to ten degrees warmer in the winter and five to ten degrees cooler in the summer compared with inland locations.
DeBerry said Villita Avocados and another grower are making a substantial investment in the shade operations and he believes the investment will deliver returns based on high-density tree plantings of 500 to 600 trees per acre.
“We are getting ready to start the new plantings,” he said in late January, noting that the plants will move from pots to greenhouses to the fields over a period of time.
In five years, DeBerry said the company — branding the avocados from TexHass Gardens — hopes to have close to 100 acres of cross-bred hass/greenskin avocados that are adaptable to south Texas.