Once upon a time, the Mesoamerican avocado (from Nahuatl āhuacatl) was an exotic treat, with few people in North America being acquainted with the creamy, pear-shaped fruit. Today, avocado has become a delicious and nutrient-dense staple in the American diet. Due to the tropical origins of avocado and its need for sun and warmth, California has become the national hotspot for avocado growing. Join us as we explore the history of avocado sales in the United States and how you can capitalize on this exciting trend.
Avocados in Numbers: Why This is Such a Lucrative Crop
Avocado growing in the United States began nearly 200 years ago with the first avocado trees being planted in Florida in 1833 and California in 1856. By the year 2000, Americans were consuming 2.21 pounds of avocado per year, which more than tripled to 8.3 pounds per person in 2018 (Statista, 2018).
There are several reasons why avocado sales have soared in the last two decades:
- Avocados are being promoted as a healthy source of dietary fat.
- Avocados contain high amounts of B vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin K, folate, and potassium.
- Avocados are considered beneficial for those on a diabetic diet.
- Avocados are an essential part of many popular Central and South American dishes (guacamole is a prime example).
Domestic Production is Falling Behind
The rapid increase in avocado consumption in the U.S. has been accompanied by a large rise in avocado imports — with 89% of avocados coming from Mexico in 2018 and the remaining 11% coming from Peru and Chile. Mexican avocados are available all year round and can currently be sold in all 50 states.
In this avocado-crazy climate, domestic avocado growing has huge potential for growth. While production may be a little slower in the States due to cool winter temperatures, the price of domestic avocados is high, and California growers experienced a 22% rise in the price for avocado sales between the years 2011 and 2018.
How to Capitalize on the Avocado Trend
The two most important keys to getting in on the avocado growing market are choosing the right plants and providing the right conditions for these plants to thrive. Detailed information can be found in the document Avocado Production in California: A Cultural Handbook for Growers (2nd ed.).
Choosing the Right Variety
In California, there are three avocado cultivars that do especially well:
- Hass (85% Guatemalan, 15% Mexican)
- Fuerte (50% Guatemalan, 50% Mexican)
- Bacon (Mostly Mexican)
Less grown varieties include Zutano, Pinkerton, Reed, Gwen, Lamb Hass, Sir Prize, and others.
Because the primary three cultivars of avocado for growing here are Mexican-Guatemalan hybrids, they enjoy a greater cold hardiness and earlier fruiting than pure Guatemalan varieties. The Guatemalan components contribute to a thicker skin that helps to protect the fruit.
- Cold ToleranceOf the three major avocado varieties, Hass fruit has the least cold tolerance — withstanding temperatures of 29°F for up to four hours before the fruit becomes damaged. Fuerte fruit can cope with temperatures as low as 26-27°F, and Bacon cultivars can withstand temperatures of 25°F before the fruit will become damaged.
- Market AcceptanceBefore growing avocado, you will want to make sure that the avocado sales will meet your expectations. For consumers, the Hass cultivar is the “standard” for how an avocado should look and taste. After Hass, the most readily accepted cultivars are:
- Lamb Hass
- Sir Prize
As far as shelf life, Pinkerton and Sir Prize have the longest storage shelf life, followed by Hass, Reed, Gwen, and Lamb Hass.
- Obtaining the Most Reliable Grafts
Growing avocado from seedlings is slow work and not all of the seedlings will bear fruit. The surest way to plant an avocado grove is to graft commercial avocado trees with budwood from a reliable cultivar so that the fruit quality and production will be consistent. After grafting, the trees will start to fruit in the third year and reach full maturity between the eighth and tenth years.
You will need to ensure that soil temperatures on your property don’t go below the limits for the varieties that you choose and that the soil type can drain freely to prevent root rot.
- Maximizing Pollination
After choosing the right varieties and planting your grove, you will need a little help from pollinators for growing your avocados successfully. An interesting study from the University of California back in 1955 compared the number of fruits produced by caged Zutano and Hass avocado cultivars with and without the presence of bees. The results of this test were the following:
Beeless Bees Zutano 4 120 Hass 5 284
As you can see, bees are essential for getting the most from your avocado growing endeavor! The following steps can help to boost pollination in your avocado grove:
- Add Beehives to the Grove
Growing avocado usually requires two to four bee hives per acre to ensure pollination for every tree. You can often rent beehives or acquire them for free from a local beekeeper if you have plenty of forage. In addition to beehives, you will need ponds or reservoirs with floating boards where the bees can land and drink without drowning.
- Plant Rows of Pollinizers
Bees don’t mind avocado, but they prefer other pollinizers like citrus and nectar-rich plants. Growers find that planting a row of pollinizer trees every fourth row attracts enough bees to assist with growing avocado successfully. As an alternative, you could plant pollinizer trees as windbreaks around the grove or use them to replace your thinned-out avocado trees.
- Make a Path for Sunlight
Bees love flowers — especially those that are lower to the ground. Keep your bees happy by pruning the higher avocado branches annually so that the lower branches will receive the sunlight they need to flower.
- Consider Different Types of Bees
As with any crop, growing avocado can take some creativity. Bumblebees were found to increase avocado yields in Israel and New World Carniolan bees gathered more nectar from avocado compared to Italian honey bees in San Diego County (although the yields were not necessarily higher). Trial and error could help you find a type of bee that increases your avocado crops and hence your avocado sales.
Maximize Your Avocado Sales with Fruit Growers Supply
If you’re ready to increase your yields and maximize your gains while growing avocado, Fruit Growers Supply Company is here to help you achieve your goals. Since 1907, we’ve been working with California growers to get their fruit and produce safely to market and now offer a range of services, including commercial solar irrigation systems, food-grade citrus wax, customized corrugated boxes, and brand-new, personalized pallets.
Give us a call at 866-477-7414 or contact us online to find out how we can help you succeed!