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Eco Farms expects fairly steady volume of Calif. avocados April through August

A smaller California avocado crop for 2014 does not necessarily mean less fruit going into the market on a weekly basis but rather a more condensed marketing window, with good supplies available each week during that window, according to Steve Taft, president of Eco Farms Avocados Inc. in Temecula, CA.

In contrast to last year, when California had a large avocado crop and the shipping season started earlier and ran long, this year “the season is going to be compressed” to about four to five months, Taft said March 17. “So even though the overall volume is not as great, there will be a fair amount of fruit in that small window.”

For Eco Farms, “we figure about April through about August will be pretty steady volume,” he said. “There will be a little bit beyond that, but the bulk of the crop will go in that April to August period.”

07-CalAvos-Eco The Eco Farms facility in Temecula, CA. (Photo by Brian Woods)Historically, Eco Farms’ avocado production in California has been heavier to the southern growing districts. But “we’re pretty well balanced” now, he said. “It may be a little bit heavier in the south, but the northern percentage has been growing, so I’d say it is pretty even.”

With California in its third year of severe drought, either water availability or the increasingly high cost of available water has become a concern for some avocado growers. Those concerns can influence decisions on when to harvest.

As always, at Eco Farms “we try to pick to the best time of the market,” Taft said. But “water is playing a huge role on how people are harvesting this crop.”

However, so much of the volume is now going to program business that the volume of fruit shipped remains much steadier through the season than in times past, “although there are still some peaks and valleys, of course,” he said.

“There is not a ton of strategy” with the California fruit, he said. ”You have that window of opportunity, and that is it.”

Statewide, the California crop was initially estimated at around 325 million pounds. “Now they are talking 280 to 300,” Taft said. As of mid-March, California had only shipped around 15 million to 20 million pounds, “while normally on a bigger crop there would be more by this time.” This year, most growers are “content to sit back” and let the fruit size.

“Last year, a lot of guys picked early and were disappointed that they did, because the prices were quite low and they found it better to wait” until there was less imported fruit in the market.

Taft said he expects Chilean fruit to be in the market through “the first couple of weeks of April, so there will be an overlap” with California in spite of California’s later start. “I think Chile has found more fruit than they thought was in there,” so they are shipping longer than they originally expected.

He does expect Chile to be finished before the first Peruvian fruit arrives, “but there won’t be too much separation.”

Chile is expected to ship more fruit into the U.S. market this year than in 2013. “They see that as an opportunity, both from the fact that they see California is going to be short and Mexico may finish sup sooner than what they thought,” Taft said. “The combination of that makes it more attractive for the Peruvians.”