July 2018 heat will cut 2019 avocado production


Issue Date: December 19, 2018
By Kevin Hecteman
The California Avocado Commission’s early estimates call for a 2019 harvest of 167 million pounds, down half from this year’s 334 million. The main culprit is said to be last July’s heat wave, which damaged avocado groves from Santa Barbara to San Diego counties.
Photo/Christine Souza

California avocados may be in short supply in 2019.

The state's crop for next year is presently estimated to come in at 167 million pounds, said Ken Melban, vice president of industry affairs for the California Avocado Commission. That's half of this year's harvest, estimated at 334 million pounds, he added.

"Where that got impacted was the heat that happened in July," Melban said. "Some of the areas took a pretty big hit."

Pockets along Highway 126 in Ventura County east of Santa Paula seemed to be hit hard, he said, as were parts of southern Riverside and northern San Diego counties.

Avocado grower Ed McFadden, who manages groves in Fillmore, said he's taking the long view.

"Next year's going to be light, but things are aligning where we have the potential for a great crop in 2020," McFadden said. "We're going to push the trees and get the best size we can on the fruit that is on the trees, and try to get the best bloom and set and crop for the next round."

McFadden said many trees in his area have recovered fairly well from July's heat.

"Many areas put on a good flush in our neighborhood following the heat wave, kind of our traditional fall flush," he said. "I think we're setting up nicely for a good bloom next spring. But damage was done to the crop that was on the trees, the set from spring 2018. We had a lot of drop; many places had a lot of drop."

McFadden said he was nearly done with harvest when the heat hit, with only a couple of bins left to fill; one bin holds 1,000 pounds of fruit.

Market conditions will determine when he sends the harvest crews into the groves, McFadden said.

"We're usually thinking about it in February or March," he said. "If there's still a high volume of imports, we might push that off a little later. It'll still be spread out a bit to take advantage of market conditions. We'll play it by ear."

He'll have plenty of time to plot strategy.

"We've got three, four, five months of winter before we start picking, so let's hope we have a nice, wet winter and continue getting a good leaching on our soils, and that Mother Nature is merciful in the frost department," McFadden said.

In a heat wave, an avocado tree's leaves will act to prevent water loss and, as a result, leaves can overheat, according to the commission. As Ag Alert® reported in July, the best course of action with a heat-stressed avocado tree is usually to do nothing.

"Heat damage like that is similar to frost damage," McFadden said. "You have to be patient, wait and see what the tree's going to do. Once it's committed, then you can see where the damage really is, (and) you can come in and do some pruning. For the burn, it's just going around and trimming off dead tips of branches that were killed in the heat."

McFadden said he's done a fair amount of pruning.

"It's a fairly light pruning," he said. "It's not the type of pruning we usually do, where we're trying to really look at structure."

The autumn weather has given McFadden reason for optimism, he said.

"We've got some real nice rain so far, which has been very encouraging," he said. "That's going to help the trees a lot. Hopefully, we're setting up for a good flush and bloom in spring of 2019, and a great crop for 2020."

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be reached at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.