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Windstorms cause damage in avocado, citrus groves

Issue Date: January 27, 2021
By Kevin Hecteman

High winds along the hills and coasts of Southern California left avocado and citrus farmers tallying damage—and watching the forecast for a potential repeat.

"We definitely know some of our growers got hit pretty good" by last week's winds, said Ken Melban, vice president of industry affairs at the California Avocado Commission. "We're still trying to ground-truth things and get a real feel for what the overall impact is."

John Krist, chief executive of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County, said avocado growers in his region had reported fruit-drop rates of 25-50%, depending on location.

"I can report that the winds knocked an awful lot of fruit off the trees," Krist said. "This was among the worst wind events I can remember ever occurring at this time of year: gusts of 40 mph-plus across most of the county. I can't quantify it yet, but I'm sure the damage and the losses were extensive."

Winds of as much as 46 mph, with gusts to 59 mph, were recorded in Camarillo on Jan. 19, according to the National Weather Service.

Glenn Miller, president of the Saticoy Lemon Association in Ventura, singled out that day as one of the worst he's seen in his years in the packing business.

Though it's early yet to know the extent of the damage, he said, he's been informing customers that "there's going to be more second-grade fruit, more third-grade fruit as a percentage than normal." That means lower prices for farmers already buffeted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on food service.

"There will be some drop, but the bigger damage is the cosmetic quality, because it beats the fruit around and causes scarring," Miller said.

"If it's a small amount, we might be able to sell them as third grade," he said. "But if they're beyond that, then we have to put them into byproducts, which is not the best—that doesn't make us much. It doesn't make us any money, actually."

Miller said sometimes the packinghouse will see "fresh injuries," in which the lemons are scraped enough to penetrate the albedo, the white layer between the surface and the fruit.

"When it penetrates the surface of the fruit into that albedo, then it breaks down the protective barrier that the citrus fruit has on keeping things out," he said. "As it sits on the tree, then it's very likely that that will heal over. If it does, then it becomes a scar, which becomes a cosmetic issue."

In most cases, the best course of action is to leave the fruit on the tree to heal, Miller said.

"When we get it here at the packinghouse, it's been healed over, and then we can judge how badly damaged it is as to whether we can try to sell it, or whether we need to go to products with it," he said.

More severe weather was predicted for this week. Melban said significant rain is in the forecast for Ventura County, which could further affect the upcoming avocado season.

"Depending on how spread out that rainfall is, that could really be another factor," he said. "If it's spread out, that'll be great. If it's an outright downpour, that could have some impacts, too."

In San Diego County, avocado and citrus growers reported losses from dropped fruit and damaged trees, and some nurseries reported damage to greenhouses and plants, according to the San Diego County Office of Agriculture, Weights and Measures.

Enrico Ferro, president of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, said some avocado growers had reported fruit drop of as much as 20%.

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

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




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