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Eco Farms’ Mexican program gets ‘bigger all the time’

Steve Taft

Eco Farms Avocados Inc. in Escondido, CA, was initially more reluctant than some other California avocado packers to become heavily involved in Mexican avocados, according to President Steve Taft. While there were various reasons for that, “some of it was that we were just heavily involved in Chile and other places.”

But the importance of Mexican fruit in the U.S. market has increased, and “the Chilean business has kind of flattened out,” he said. “So it seems like Mexico is playing a bigger and bigger role” not only for the industry but also for Eco Farms.

Mexico’s crop is bigger this year, and “we are going to handle a bigger amount this year as well,” he said. The importance of Mexico in the company’s year-round avocado program is getting “bigger all the time.”

Earlier this year, Eco Farms opened a branch office in McAllen, TX. Jason Stros, who was previously a director of product development with LozaMax Inc. in Mission, TX, is managing the office in McAllen, and handling f.o.b. sales as well as inspections. Mr. Stros, an experienced avocado marketer, previously held a similar position with London Fruit Inc. in Pharr, TX. He will be selling avocados for Eco Farms from all sources, not just from Texas, Mr. Taft said.

“That is going well,” said Mr. Taft. “It helps to have eyes on the product.”

Eco Farms deals with four or five different shippers in Mexico and markets fruit packed in both company labels and grower labels.

“The fruit, up to this point, is coming into Texas,” Mr. Taft said. “We have had a little bit of fruit here [in California], but mostly it comes out of Texas straight to customers out here on the West Coast” without going through the Eco Farms warehouse in Escondido.

So far this season, Mr. Taft said, he has received no negative feedback from customers on any of the fruit from Mexico that they have received.

Sizes have been a little on the small side for the early part of the deal out of Mexico, he said, but “that is not unusual. For any country, that is typical for the early fruit. It is heavy to 48s and smaller, with a good amount of 48s.”

Chile has a bigger avocado crop this year than it did last year, “but they haven’t sent a lot of fruit,” Mr. Taft said. “They had a couple of little surges where they buried us with fruit, but overall I’d say it is probably less than we expected.”

The first harvesting of the company’s California crop may start as early as January, “not in huge volume, but that will be the kickoff for Hass,” he said.

Eco Farms will also have small volume of some other avocado varieties, like Bacon and Fuerte, which will start even earlier.

Those non-Hass varieties, which were once a more significant part of the California avocado deal, are now “just about all gone. There are “very few” left.

For example, in 1980 the industry shipped somewhere around 140 million pounds of Fuertes, and this year there will only be somewhere around 1 million pounds, he said, emphasizing that those numbers are only approximate.

With regard to the Hass business, whether from Mexico or elsewhere, Eco Farms is, “like everybody, I think, doing more bags” and is also doing “quite a bit of preconditioning.”

Besides avocados, Eco Farms also packs organic citrus.

“We are finishing up the Rubies [grapefruit], we finished the lemons, and the [Valencias] are within a couple of weeks of finishing.” Navels normally start the end of October, but they appear to be “a little behind this year.”