In the international avocado industry, Mexico possesses the gravitational pull of the sun. All other avocado-producing nations bend to its mass. Take February 2022, a time when growers in San Diego County were about to start picking for the season, and Mexico was coming up short with its lagging shipments into the United States avocado market. Under-supply sent prices to never-before-seen heights for California fruit – over $2 per pound in February – and the season was jump-started, first in San Diego County and then northward to Santa Barbara County.
As a result, California sprinted through its 2022 season, picking earlier and smaller than average years, in order to maximize profits. The price continued to rise through June, and then it came back to Earth.
“The season was like summer love. It was short and sweet and didn’t last nearly long enough,” said Rick Shade of Shade Farm Management, which manages avocado groves in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
At this point, nearly all of the 2022 California avocados have been picked and packed, and the avocados hanging from trees are part of next year’s crop. Chances are high that avocados consumed in Carpinteria this weekend at the California Avocado Festival were not harvested in California. There just aren’t that many homegrown avocados left.
Since Carpinteria has a more temperate climate, historically avocado growers have enjoyed the advantage of leaving the fruit on the tree for longer and to harvest when prices are favorable in the late season. This year, however, later harvest was a disadvantage.
“Folks who paid attention to the market took advantage of high early-season prices. Those who relied on historical averages lost their shorts,” Shade said.
Global supply-chain issues, a light Mexican crop and flare ups of cartel violence led to strong grower prices on California avocados early in the year. Traditionally, peak season for the California harvest hits somewhere around the months of May through August. This year, harvest shifted back a whole month in response to pricing, and packinghouses started slowing down even before the Labor Day Weekend, which avocado distributors usually count on as a big barbecue and guacamole holiday.
Peru has been a growing player in the U.S. (and global) avocado market, and the Peruvian avocado season overlaps with California’s typical summer schedule. This year, supply from Peru came on as scheduled in early summer and was one factor that applied downward pressure on pricing. Mexico also ramped up production in the summer with its flor loca crop, a second harvest that allows Mexico to produce avocados year-round. From now until the early part of next year, Mexican avocados will sustain the U.S. market until other suppliers like California and Peru can start harvesting again.
Of note for the 2022 season: The U.S. now imports Mexican avocados grown in the state of Jalisco. In prior years, due to trade agreements and strict phytosanitary protocols on produce imports, only fruit from the neighboring state of Michoacan was green-lighted for import into the US market. That changed this July. California growers are watching in earnest to see how the newly permitted Mexican growing region impacts overall inventory and pricing for years to come.
By the Numbers:
VOLUME:California has harvested about 250 million pounds of Hass avocados this year and a grand total of 270 million pounds for all varieties. Lamb Hass (10 million pounds) and GEM (4 million pounds) varieties are next in volume for California growers. GEM, a relatively new variety, has seen its production rise steadily each year as more growers plant GEM trees, hoping they will compete with Hass for market share.
So far in 2022, Mexico has exported 1.4 billion pounds of Hass avocados to the US. The total volume of Hass avocados consumed in the U.S. so far this year is 1.9 billion pounds, which is behind our 2021 pace of 2.2 billion pounds through September. Mexico has picked up its harvest pace as of late, and in reaction U.S. avocado inventories have grown and prices have plummeted.
PRICING:In mid-February 2021, California avocado growers were getting about $1.15 per pound for conventionally grown fruit. A year later, the grower was able to command $2.25 for the same pound of fruit, a near 100 percent increase. By mid-June of 2022, growers were getting paid an all-time high of $2.66 per pound. Organic California avocados eclipsed $3 per pound, and growers couldn’t get their avocados to market quickly enough.
The pull of gravity (Mexico’s gravity) brought prices down fast starting in July 2022. As of late August, the price paid to growers for a pound of conventionally grown California avocados had fallen to $1.20 per pound and organics were down to $1.50 per pound. California growers who harvested in the later season were getting half the price of their peers who harvested early.