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California avocado crop down with later start, earlier finish expected

“We are looking forward to a great California avocado marketing season" with a crop that is expected to be more in the average range, following last year’s very large crop, Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission in Irvine, CA, told The Produce News March 4.

The 2013 crop came in at around 500 million pounds, which “was considered on the larger size” for a California avocado crop, DeLyser said. DeLyserJan DeLyserThis year, “we are saying around 300 million pounds, but the range we are hearing is 280 million to 320 million pounds.” That crop size is “more in line with” the historical average.

Avocados tend to be alternate-bearing, and after last year’s heavy crop, “the trees are recouping from last year’s production,” she said.

The smaller crop this year will affect the length of the shipping season and also influence the timing of the commission’s marketing activities.

In 2014, the harvest was starting to ramp up by mid-March. This year, volume is expected to begin building around mid- to late-April. It will continue to increase steadily over the next several weeks and then “take a significant bump up as we get toward the summer months,” DeLyser said.

The shipping season in 2013 not only started earlier than usual, it ran longer than usual, continuing into October with “good volume,” DeLyser said. This year, most of the volume will probably be off the trees and on its way to market by early September.

Unlike many other fruits that must be harvested within a narrow window of optimum maturity, avocados, once ready for harvest, can remain on the tree for several months and be picked as markets and other factors dictate. They are similar to oranges in that regard.

Even though the 2014 California avocado harvest would not start in earnest for a few more weeks, “there is some harvesting going on” currently, DeLyser said.

Several factors are contributing to growers’ decisions to harvest some of their fruit early. One is cultural practices. Some growers are pruning their trees “before the next year bloom sets” and are harvesting some fruit in the process.

“There is a lot of that activity going on,” she said, although the volume of fruit involved is not significant.

Another factor in play this year is the severe drought in California. The state did get some significant rainfall at the end of February, but it was only a fraction of the amount needed to end the drought, and water shortages are causing concerns to avocado growers.

In the northern avocado-growing districts, potential water shortages are of particular concern, and some growers there are harvesting early just out of concern over water availability later in the season.

What the smaller crop this year means “from a marketing standpoint,” DeLyser said, is a later start for the commission’s marketing programs.

“Last year, we were pushing pretty hard starting in March” and continued programs through October to keep volume moving through the marketing channels throughout the long season, she said.

This year, the commission plans to launch its consumer marketing programs in mid- to late April, and to continue through Labor Day.

“It will be a little tighter window on the season” so that the timing of the marketing campaign will coincide with the availability of volume for promotions, according to DeLyser.

A snacking theme will be a major focus of the commission’s marketing programs this year, DeLyser added.

“The trend toward snacking is very well documented, and one of our core programs will be a California fresh snacking theme program that will be promoted through social media [and] through our consumer public relations, through our trade communications,” she said.

A new recipe brochure “is being developed” featuring California avocados in a lot of different kinds of snacking environments,” she said.

Additionally, “we are going to continue with the breakfast initiative that we have done the last few years and the American Summer Holidays theme,” which runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day and includes the Fourth of July.

The commission’s Fourth of July initiative, “launched a few years back,” has made the Fourth of July “a consumption event” for avocados that is “on par with the Super Bowl and Cinco de Mayo,” she said. “We will continue that initiative as well.”