California avocado crop rebounds

California avocado crop rebounds

California’s avocado crop is expected to rebound in 2020, with the state’s growers shipping 369 million pounds — about a 70% increase over last year — according to the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission.

Early-season volume slightly exceeded projections, the commission reported, and industry expectations are that volume will peak from April through July and continue through Labor Day.

A lot of harvesting already was going on in February, said Bob Lucy, partner at Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif.

“Prices are crazy strong,” he said. 

F.o.b. prices for two-layer cartons of size 48 avocados from Southern California were mostly $56.25-58.25 on March 2, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

USDA was not yet quoting prices on California fruit in early March of last year, but two years ago, f.o.b. prices were $38.25-40.25.

“We’re excited about the increased volume,” said Dana Thomas, president and CEO of Index Fresh Inc., Riverside, Calif.

Some growers started picking in mid-January because of the strong markets and a desire to start shipping their heavy volume, he said.

Quality has been excellent.

Related article: Index Fresh makes some changes

“Acceptance into retail and foodservice programs has been great,” Thomas said. 

“We hope to carry on at sustained volumes into September.”

Sometimes, when a small crop is followed by a big one, fruit size can be on the small side, but that does not appear to be the case this year, Thomas said.

“I think it’s going to be a normal-size season,” he said. “We have a larger crop, but it’s not a limb breaker.”

Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc. also had an early start with a much better crop than last year, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing.

Related article: Calavo Growers’ Mike Browne plans to retire

Two years ago, many groves were damaged by fire, and last year, they were hit by a heatwave.

Calavo was affected more than the industry as a whole, Wedin said.

“It really hurt us last year as far as our volume,” he said.

Another reason California growers have started harvesting so soon is because Mexico has been shipping under forecast, Wedin said.

“You hear that Mexico has more fruit, but they’re not behaving that way, so California is stepping in and getting quite a bit of that business,” he said. “The customers really seem to appreciate it.”

Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif., was off to a good start, said Ross Wileman, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Related article: California heatwave lowers avocado volume

“We started about month earlier than anticipated,” he said.

The company was size picking size 48s and larger in early March.

Mexico has not been producing larger fruit this year and has a high percentage of No. 2s, he said.

“That created a market condition for California to come in with the big fruit.”

Temecula, Calif.-based Eco Farms had a slow January but a busy February, said Gahl Crane, sales director.

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Fruit quality is “great,” he said, with volume equally distributed between the southern and northern growing areas.

Growers were picking a wide range of sizes, but he said there appeared to be a higher percentage of smaller-size fruit — 60s and 70s — than normal. Size 48s generally are the most popular.

“We’ve seen really good demand for even the small fruit from Western retailers and California-based retailers,” Crane said.

Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif., was picking at 20% of capacity in late February, said Phil Henry, president.

Volume will increase in March, and the company should be at full capacity from April to July before starting to taper off in August.

Henry expects to see a lot of summer ads following Cinco de Mayo, the California industry’s biggest holiday.

Most of Henry Avocado’s fruit stays on the West Coast, he said, though the company has some spring and summer programs for customers in the East who want California fruit.

Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos. already has started picking as well, said Gary Caloroso, regional business development director.

Related article: California Avocado Commission seeks exports to China

The company has two California packinghouses, one in Escondido and one in Ventura.

“We’re actually bringing bins into both packinghouses in California,” he said in February.

“The quality looks really, really good,” he added.

He said there were no reports of pests or diseases.

“It looks like we’re off to good start so far this season,” he said. 

After years of drought, California received record rainfall last year, though precipitation this year was running below normal after a promising start.

“The trees are very healthy, and the water quality is better than it was a few years ago because of the rain that we got,” Henry said.

Growers appreciate rainwater because it’s a lot cheaper than having to irrigate, he said.

The state had some strong periods of rain in November and December, but they were short lived, Wedin said.

He doubted that there will be a “March Miracle,” as there was in 1991 when California was hit by massive storms during March following a dry winter.

“You have to worry about that,” he said.