California avocado growers expecting a slightly smaller yield, with larger fruit sizing

California avocado growers expecting a slightly smaller yield, with larger fruit sizing

California farmers first planted avocados in 1856, lagging behind Florida, yet the Golden State now accounts for about 90% of production in the U.S. Among the hundreds of avocado varieties in existence, California farmers grow seven commercially, with the native hass making up about 95% of the annual statewide crop.

Although the industry faces serious challenges such as drought conditions and water restrictions, California’s avocado growers are reporting good quality, increased sizing and healthy yields for the 2022-23 season.

Increasing demand, declining domestic supply
Avocados have become something of an obsession for health-conscious U.S. consumers since the early 2000s, inspiring a surge in demand for the creamy, green-skinned superfood. 

Data from the USDA’s Economic Research Service shows that the number of avocados available per person — the agency’s proxy for consumption — tripled between 2000 and 2021.

At the same time, domestic avocado production has slowly declined since 2011. Imports, mainly from Mexico, have stepped in to meet growing demand and now account for 90% of U.S. avocado supply compared to just 40% 20 years ago. “In the past decade, the drought, water cost and water quality have all been challenging for California avocado growers,” said Jeff Oberman, president of the California Avocado Commission in Irvine.

Farmers have also faced wildfires and record-setting heat waves causing trees in some Southern California regions to drop fruit before maturity. There is reason for hope, however; CAC’s 2021 acreage survey estimated that new or young trees make up about 5% of the state’s total planted avocado acreage.

“Challenges to production are being partially mitigated by growers who have increased plantings,” Oberman said. “Some growers who experienced devastating losses due to wildfires have replanted or are replanting avocado trees.” CAC is also seeing efforts to boost production through high-density planting and other grove management techniques, and some growers are making strides with avocado varieties such as Gem and reed.

Smaller yields, larger sizing
CAC forecasts the avocado crop for fiscal year 2022-23 at 257 million pounds, which is a slight decline from the 2021-22 yield of 276 million pounds. The agency predicts that the hass variety will account for 243 million pounds of this year’s crop, with lamb hass weighing in at 7 million pounds and Gem at 6 million pounds.

While harvest timing will depend on weather and market conditions, CAC expects volume to ramp up in March and reach peak availability from April through July. The season typically winds down around Labor Day.

California growers are seeing good results for this season’s crop, both in terms of quality and sizing. “We’re really excited about this season in particular,” said Steve Taft, president of Eco Farms in Temecula. The grower works in partnership with Vancouver, Canada-based The Oppenheimer Group (Oppy) to bring California avocados to market — mainly the hass variety. “I’ve personally been eating this crop for the last few weeks, and it’s been very good, even for this early in the season,” he said. “We look forward to delivering fruit to our retail partners in the coming weeks.”

While volume this season is lower than the previous year, Taft added, fruit size is larger due to increased rainfall. Peter Shore, vice president of product management at Calavo Growers in Santa Paula, said he expects to see a medium-size yield. The grower will have Gem avocados available this spring, as well as lamb hass in July and August. “This year’s California crop looks good,” he said, noting that the season got off to a later start than normal due to market conditions. “The organic crop also looks good this year.”

Index Fresh in Corona expects to see slightly higher volumes and sizing in 2023 for all varieties, including both conventional and organic avocados. The season typically kicks off with hass in late winter, followed in spring and summer by Gem, bacon, lamb hass and reed.

“Last year the market was very short on supply and pulled early fruit into the market,” said Keith Blanchard, California field manager at Index Fresh. “This year we are experiencing a different market dynamic. Growers are more willing to let fruit size up while seeing if the market pricing improves.”

Rainfall sets the stage for 2024
The spike in rainfall this winter has also contributed to growers’ optimism. CAC predicts that the extended soaking will benefit tree health and may contribute to a larger crop size for next season.

“Rain is beneficial to avocado fruit quality, helping with tree health by leeching excess salts from the soil,” Oberman said. “Rain also can help with overall sizing. Some growers have been able to collect rain in catch basins on their groves and we are hopeful that wells and groundwater levels have improved.”

Taft believes the rain has been “exceptionally positive” for the trees and growers for two main reasons. “First, growers don’t need to buy water, which has grown more expensive over the years,” he said. “Second, heavy rains like this actually flush salt out of the soil system and rinse it away.”

Bailey Diioia, field representative for Index Fresh, also pointed to the flushing effect as a positive for avocado trees. “Leaching the soils to clean up salt buildup is a huge benefit,” he said. “Sizing the current crop and allowing for a good flower start for the 2024 crop looks very promising.”

California avocado promotions
This April CAC will continue its media advertising campaign, “The Best Avocados Have California in Them.” This year’s content will feature California avocado tips, grower spotlights and new creative videos. The program includes customized marketing support for retailers, such as recipe and video content for social media platforms.

“With retailers there are some key promotion time frames, including season start — announcing the availability of California avocados in stores — Cinco de Mayo and American summer holidays such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day,” said CAC Vice President of Marketing Terry Splane. “We work with each customer individually and develop programs that complement their own marketing activities and needs.”

For California Avocado Month in June, CAC will offer POS material and display bins, along with providing consumer marketing support and public relations outreach. This year CAC is partnering with influencers Remy Park of Veggiekins and the creators of Nom Life. With a half-million followers combined, the influencers will create California avocado recipes and content and share them on their social platforms throughout the season. To get consumers excited about California Avocado Month, they will post ideas under the theme “Unique and Unexpected.”

CAC also encourages grocery retailers to create their own California Avocado Month content. In 2022, partners including Albertsons-Vons-Pavilions, Gelson’s, Mollie Stone’s, Nugget Markets, Raley’s, and Stater Bros. ran promotions and social media campaigns, including social media posts, hyperlocal produce promotions, themed giveaways, grower videos and avocado recipes.

Capitalizing on the “buy local” movement, Calavo Growers plans to promote California avocados to shoppers within the state. “California is one of the largest consumer markets for avocados,” Shore said, “and fruit doesn’t travel far to be consumed. ‘Locally grown’ promotions play a major role with California-grown avocados. This will be promoted with our retail and foodservice customers, and we have specific merchandising options in California-themed bags and signage at retail.”

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