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Jalisco avocado growers advocating for entry into U.S. marketplace

About 15 years ago, when Mexican avocados began to gain partial entry to the U.S. marketplace, the only groves and packingsheds eligible to export were those located in the west-central state of Michoacán.

Access to the United States has increased to all 50 states, but the point of origin still must only be groves and packing plants in Michoacán. While Michoacán is the largest producing area for Mexican avocados, it is not the only area.

JaliscoavocadosJalisco growers produce about 30 million pounds of avocados annually.Recently, five more municipalities in the bordering state of Jalisco, which is to its north, were certified quarantine-pest free, and growers from that area are now advocating that packingsheds and groves in those pest-free areas also be granted access to the U.S. market.

Some Jalisco growers have been informally asking to be included since their first municipality was certified quarantine-free by the Mexican government's pesticide agency in 2008.

With the certification of the five new areas, Ignancio Gomez, executive director of the Jalisco Avocado Growers & Exporters Association, which goes by the acronym APEAJAL, said that now more than 8,000 of the 15,000 commercial avocado hectares (about 20,000 of 37,000 acres) in Jalisco are certified pest-free. He believes it is time that those acres be granted access to the U.S. market.

In October, Gomez and other representatives of APEAJAL came to the Produce Marketing Association convention in New Orleans and advocated for their inclusion in the Avocados From Mexico program. The group signed a Memorandum of Agreement with APEAM, the grower group representing Michoacán avocados, and is moving forward to adopt all the reporting and technical requirements that exporters from that state follow.

Gomez said the Jalisco growers believe they have satisfied all the phytosanitary requirements and just need the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant & Health Inspection Service to come to Jalisco and certify the sheds and groves, as they have done with Michoacán.

Gomez is not sure whether Mexico has formally asked the U.S. government to grant entry to certified Jalisco growers, but he believes if the request hasn't happened it should happen soon.

"We have talked to USDA officials so they know about Jalisco," he said.

Since Jalisco growers began increasing their plantings about a decade ago, Gomez said the total acreage has grown to about the aforementioned 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres), with about half of that being mature groves. Unlike Michoacán, he said the overwhelming majority of that acreage is irrigated, which has created a different season than the neighboring state.

While both areas can produce avocados year-round, Gomez said Jalisco's heaviest production is in the summer, which is in direct contrast to Michoacán.

He estimated that about 150,000 tons (300 million pounds) of fruit are produced by these Jalisco growers.

"About 60-70 percent of that is sold domestically and about 30 percent is exported," he said. "Currently, we export to Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, Europe and some to Central America. We are very used to the export culture."

Asked how quickly he expects Jalisco to be able to sell its avocados to the U.S. market, Gomez said, "That's the $1 million question. We hope to gain access by the time we begin our new season in June."

He said the vast majority of Jalisco avocados are produced from June to March, with the three summer months being the peak period.