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Report: Avocado crop values are down

COAST CITIES — Phil Henry, owner of Henry Avocado Company in Escondido, noted that last year was especially difficult for his industry.“An already hard business got harder,” Henry said.

Henry’s company harvested more avocados in 2012 than the prior year. Still, his bottom line decreased.

A recently released crop report, issued by the county’s Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures, reflects his plight.

Last year, the county’s avocado crop value totaled $157.9 million — 24 percent less than 2011.

That’s despite the fact that avocado production jumped from 65,200 tons to 93,300 tons. And avocados sprouted on nearly 5,000 more acres in 2012 when compared to the previous year.

Yet the price of avocados fell sharply. On average, avocado growers in California received 83 cents per pound in 2012 for their crops, compared with $1.52 per pound in 2011, according to the California Avocado Commission.

“Pounds haven’t translated to more dollars for us over the last year,” Henry said.

Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, said that prices dropped, in part, because grocery stores and restaurants are importing more avocados from Mexico, Chile and Peru.

“Avocados from Mexico aren’t a recent trend, but longtime,” Larson said.

“Last year, more avocados from abroad flooded the market,” he added.

And he noted the San Diego avocados during last year’s harvest were a bit smaller than normal, so growers didn’t get as much for them.

Back in Escondido, Henry noted the avocado price jumped in the past few months, giving him hope in the short term.

But even if prices keep going up, there’s the risk that next season’s harvest will be poor, because avocado trees are known for a higher yield every other year.

“It’s not an exact science, but there tends to be more avocados on alternating years,” Henry said. “It’s not known what next year will be like, but the pattern is something to keep in mind.”

In any case, Henry said price and production fluctuations are concerning.

Increasing water prices, however, remain the biggest threat to avocado growers.

“Over the past five years, water prices have almost doubled,” said Henry, who has been in the business for nearly 30 years.

To combat the trend, he’s installed water-saving sprinklers, among other improvements. But it’s “difficult to find more efficiencies,” he said.

“In North County you can drive by a lot of empty groves where they used to grow avocados,” Henry said.

County Agricultural Commissioner Ha Dang said the disappointing value of the avocado crop is a smudge on an otherwise upbeat crop report.

“There is some positive as it relates to avocados — acres harvested is up,” Dang said.

The report notes that the county’s agriculture industry grew by 4 percent in 2012, reaching a worth of $1.75 billion. And for the first time in four years, the number of acres of farmland rose.

Ornamental trees and shrubs remained the most valuable crop for the industry in 2012, representing more than $387 million. Also notable: Wine and grape production exploded 512 percent over 2011.