By: Heather Williams

Guacamole, avocado toast, creamy green sauce!  There is no way around it.  The beloved avocado is a staple in the diet of many.  From the protein to the good fat, this wholesome fruit (yes, it’s actually a fruit) is about to get scarce, and most likely VERY expensive.  Though some say consumers may only notice a small jump in price, as the avocado markets in Mexico and South America make up more of the market share with respect to international supply chain than farms in California.  California is responsible for 80% of the avocado sold in the United States.  Pricing aside, who or what is to blame?  Wildfires have ravaged California, right in the heart of avocado orchards.

Fire, ash, winds, and to some extent regulations are responsible for the subsequent disaster to avocado plants.  Not to mention the delicateness and long maturity period of the plant increase the complications.  Wildfires are causing massive destruction, forever touching everything in its wake.

Fire, Ash, and Wind.  Oh My!

With many of California’s avocado orchards residing in Ventura County, this triple whammy has affected this delicious fruit from making its way to your table.

Fire

The destructive nature of the Thomas fire has devastated Ventura County’s avocado orchards.  Harvest time for California often runs from late March through September, so at this time the fruit is so small it isn’t ready for picking.  This leaves so many fruit and orchards vulnerable to this massive force.

At this time a significant amount of avocado groves has already been lost as the fire makes its way further south into San Diego County.  “The fires stayed up in the foothills and that’s where a lot of our avocado production occurs,” John Krist, CEO of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County, told CNBC in an interview Friday. “So there’s clearly damage or destruction of I’d say, conservatively, several hundred acres of avocado groves, and I’m sure that number will go up as we get better information about what’s going on further back in those canyons.”

The flames do not have to touch the plants to issue damage.  Some experts say that even the heat from nearby wildfires can produce heat of 125 ºF or more and can reach adjacent trees located on the perimeter of the avocado groves.  This can cause permanent damage to the trees, essentially killing an orchard by proxy.  Additionally, plants that have lost their canopy due to parts of the orchard being burned may risk sunburn as a result of more direct sun exposure.

Ash

As fires burn, ash can be seen floating in the air, landing indiscriminately where it may.  This thick coating of ash also has an impact on the amazing avocado.  While the ash often does little to the fruit of the avocado due to the thick skin there are several downstream effects of this disaster.

A coating of ash can affect the insect balance on the plants.  Avocado plants rely on friendly insects that hunt and control pest insects that want to poach the avocados.  Growers affectionately call these friendly insects “bio-controls” as they act as a natural pesticide, so chemicals are less necessary at managing the groves.

This balance can be affected for a year or more after the orchard recovers from the fire.  One expert explains that some impacts of the fires may not be all that immediate.  We can expect to see changes for quite some time.

Wind

Wind not only blows the fire to additional affected areas.  It also does harm to the plants.  These hot, dry, Santa Ana winds can blow through the California desert with gusts up to 80 miles per hour.  This massive force knocks the avocados from the tree and onto the ground where they are no longer allowed to be harvested.  Food safety regulations prohibit the sale of avocado not directly picked from the tree.  “A lot of that fruit everybody was looking forward to harvesting next year is laying on the ground,” says John Krist, chief executive of Ventura County Farm Bureau.

The heavy fruit hangs from the tree on a long stem by December, though it is not yet ready to be picked until February or March.  This leaves them vulnerable to falling from the tree.  These plants are hardy enough to handle normal winds, but are not match for gale force gusts.

How Long Does It Take to Grow an Avocado?

Though it can take only but a few minutes to savor an avocado, that delicious green fruit is years or even decades in the making.  From seed to mature, fruiting plant it can take 10 years.  Once the individual avocado begins to grow on the tree, it takes a full year to mature into a harvestable fruit.  So perhaps the next time I take a second look at the price I will appreciate what goes into growing this delectable fruit.

Wildfires Impact More than Avocados!

Avocados aren’t the only crops feeling the heat from the wildfires.  Grapes absorb the smoke, tainting the fruit leaving it unharvestable.  Farm workers are having to brave the poor air quality and given masks to help protect them from the smoke while in the fields.  This is despite health experts urging people to remain indoors as much as possible.  Winds are affecting lemon trees much in the same way as they have affected the avocado plants.  Lemons are being blown off trees, rendering them unusable.  As the fires have continued to move south, flower farms are also at risk.  Ventura County is the orchard seat, but Carpinteria Valley is known as the “flower basket of the United States.”  These fires will have long-term effects that will reshape the region for a long time.

 Because Who Doesn’t Want to Know More About Avocados.

While I have just given you the terrible news about the demise of this beautiful fruit, I’d like to leave you with some fun facts.

Did you know that avocados must be hand-picked due to United States government regulations?  This means that companies must pay the high price of labor.  This requirement is what is responsible for the higher price of this produce item compared to others that have the luxury of more mechanical means of harvest.

Did you know that avocados are single-seeded berries?  This is why they are technically fruits, not vegetables.  Though they mingle much better with lettuce than strawberries.  But something tells me that you aren’t judging it too much for its berry status.

Did you know that avocado is one of the highest protein containing fruits?  This, along with healthy fat keeps you more satisfied and full longer, helping control your appetite.  This makes it a great snack.

Did you know that every part of the avocado is edible?  From the pit, to the flesh, to the peel.  While it doesn’t seem to palatable, there are additional health benefits from consuming all parts of the avocado.  Though I think I’ll stick with the flesh and the oil.

Speaking of avocado oil.  Did you know that avocado oil has a higher smoke point than many other cooking oils?  This means you can use it instead of butter or other less healthy fats.  The higher smoking temp means that you can heat it to a higher temperature before it begins to break down.

Did you know that there is a fool-proof indicator of ripeness of avocado?  That little piece where the stem was reveals a peephole into what’s inside.  Pick off that little piece to reveal the color.  If it’s brown, the avocado is over ripe.  If it’s too pale, it is not ripe enough yet.  If it is a nice bright green you’ve got yourself a winner.

Now, I think I’ll make myself an avocado toast.  Or perhaps some guacamole.

 

Sources:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-wildfire-avocados/california-avocados-hit-with-triple-whammy-of-fire-wind-and-ash-idUSKBN1E22SU

http://www.mashed.com/94177/things-probably-dont-know-avocados/

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/12/08/california-wildfires-burn-up-several-hundred-acres-of-avocado-groves.html