On the way into work on July 1, I tuned into a local New York classic rock station. I was anticipating a great Independence Day weekend and wanted to channel that through some music, but instead of gracing me with Creedence Clearwater Revival or Led Zeppelin, the DJs were going through some recent news headlines. And what I heard truly struck me for two reasons. The first was the content of the message and the platform: they were talking about avocado prices on a classic rock station. The second was far more devastating: heat in Southern California was going to negatively affect avocados prices and availability, right in time for July 4.
As an avid avocado eater, all I could think was: "This is certainly not good."
The news all seemed to stem from a June 29 piece from the Los Angeles Times noting that triple-digit heat across much of Southern California devastated avocado farms. Growers were left with burnt trees and unsellable fruit two weeks in advance of the Fourth of July, a holiday that is typically accompanied by a spike in avocado sales. The story quoted Tom Bellamore, president of the California Avocado Commission:
"Tom Bellamore, president of the California Avocado Commission, was in the groves last week, where he saw shriveled leaves, branches that were badly sunburned and some fruit drop, particularly on younger trees. As for the long-term consequences, he explains, 'After the heat, it takes a while for the effects to manifest themselves, so at this point, we’re uncertain if there is a loss or not to next year’s crop.'"
Fast-forward a few weeks, and the pressure seems to be on. The f.o.b. price for a carton of 48 size California avocados was about $56 as of July 6, according to The Produce News. The market was experiencing a demand-exceeds-supply equation, and many grower-shippers expected the conditions to persist throughout July. In addition to the heat wave troubling California growers, Peruvian producers mostly shipped their product to Europe in 2016. Compounding the problem, Mexican growers were busy establishing a more consistent marketing strategy for the 2016-17 marketing season, limiting the amount of product available.
After reading that, I thought again: "This is certainly not good."
And I've seen the prices spike at local supermarkets. Earlier this year, I could get 4 avocados for $5. Last week, I could get 2 for the same price. I'm pretty terrified of what prices I will encounter when I stop by the store next.
However, not all the news is bad. Speaking with AgAlert in a July 13 article, Bellamore noted that the California avocado crop will be higher than the 2014-15 harvest, and not by a small margin, either. Last year, California producers harvested 279 million-lbs. This year, the official midseason estimate from the California Avocado Commission is set at more than 390 million-lbs. Bellamore noted it could even burst past 400 million-lbs., which is well above the "nice-sized" crop of 300 to 350 million-lbs. growers and packers prefer to see on the market.
And so I thought, "Finally, maybe some good news."