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Producers forecast a dip in avocados

Some say fewer fruits won’t boost price greatly

An avocado shortage is looming next spring.

California farmers expect to harvest the smallest avocado crop since 1990 and possibly even as far back as 1980. Hot weather in June, at just the wrong point in the growing season, is responsible for the shortfall.

Lucky for football fans, there is still plenty of the green-fleshed fruit – the basic ingredient of guacamole – to last well beyond the bowl season, experts say. But by Cinco de Mayo, shoppers could be paying more.

The crunch will come in late spring and early summer, when imports from Mexico and Chile are at their lowest.

Prices shouldn’t explode, but they’ll creep into the higher range of what consumers expect, said Wayne Brydon, field service manager for the California Avocado Commission.

“Retailers see avocados as a prime produce item that already has good margins, and they probably won’t want to raise the price far up,” he said, but “they have some room to maneuver.”

Americans eat about 3 pounds of avocado per capita per year, with people in the West and Southwest eating more than the average.

The shortage will be more pronounced in guacamole-crazy Texas and the eastern half of the nation, because California growers will favor longtime customers in Pacific coastal states, Arizona and Nevada, Brydon said.

Yet even during that three-month period of May to July when California avocados are king, there still could be enough competition to help regulate prices, said Avi Crane, owner of Prime Produce International, an avocado packing house in Orange, Calif.

Avocados in Mexico are grown at different elevations and latitudes, making the fruit almost a year-round crop and giving farmers there a degree of flexibility over when they have fruit to sell, said Ben Faber, a University of California Cooperative Extension avocado expert.

“Mexico is so huge that if they see good prices here, they will divert fruit up here to capture those higher prices. And that drives up prices in Mexico, too, so it is very clever,” Faber said.

Mexico, the world’s largest grower of avocados, exported about one-third of its crop to the United States this year and is expected to send an additional 500 million pounds of the fruit north next year, Brydon said.

Chile, another large grower, is expected to ship about 180 million pounds to the United States next year, mostly after August. The Dominican Republic is a small but growing player in the U.S. avocado market.

Americans buy almost 1 billion pounds of avocados annually, and the demand is growing. “Twenty years ago, basically most avocados were eaten in California, Arizona and Texas. Now they eat them in Wisconsin,” Faber said.

California growers are expected to produce about 210 million pounds of avocados in 2009. That’s about one-third less than this year’s crop and about half of what farmers had hoped for, Brydon said.


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