Coastal California lemon and avocado growers are not smiling to the bank at all as they contend with challenges of climate change and foreign competition.
This is because agricultural output alone in Ventura County grosses about $2 billion annually, but avocados from Mexico and Argentine lemons are having mixed results for growers like Chris Sayer of Santa Paula, Calif.
It was gathered that the Argentine citrus is coming in at prices under the cost of production for U.S. growers, particularly those in California where the cost of production tends to run higher than elsewhere in the U.S.
Thus, it costs less to ship lemons from South America to East Coast ports than it does to truck them cross-country.
Although Mexican avocado imports are having their fiscal effects too, the marketing campaign is boosting consumer demand which U.S. growers are eager to fill.
“The interesting thing is, as the Mexican imports came on, it actually built demand and California domestic producers didn’t have to work as hard to build demand at the beginning of the season. Overall consumption continues to rise. American avocado consumption went from about a pound per capita in the mid-1990s to over eight pounds per capita today.” says Chris Sayer, who farms avocados and lemons along California’s south coast.
Another benefit to the large Mexican avocado crop is the stabilization of price. Avocados alternate bear – heavy crops one year and a lighter crop the next – the price swings would cause growers to grumble during those “on” year heavy crops as prices tanked.
“Any grower over 70 years old will tell you about the time he got $2 per pound, but what they don’t tell you is the following year they got 17 cents,” Sayer continues.
He added that with the larger Mexican crop and higher demand, California’s production no longer distorts the market. According to him, avocado prices have generally stabilized to about $1.20 per pound to the grower.
California had to contend with climate change. Wind events that used to be exclusive to October in his region now can come in the winter and spring.
This has led to hot temperatures. Temperatures late last summer climbed to 120 degrees along Sayer’s stretch of the California coast.
Also, hurricane-force winds for about 24 hours in January, coupled with low humidity, punished his maturing avocado crop, and scarred the young lemons.