The California crop is bigger this year and the crop for Eco Farms Avocados Inc. in Temecula, CA, is larger as well, said Steve Taft, president of Eco Farms, in an interview with The Produce News Feb. 21.
“It is really slow to get started, though,” he said. “Here it is almost the end of February, and we haven’t done 10 million pounds of fruit total [as an industry] out of 500 million” pounds estimated for the season. “So we are kind of backing ourselves into a bit of a corner with that, unfortunately.”
Growers either don’t have sufficient size on their fruit yet, with the larger crops, or “they don’t like the price,” but “whatever the reason is, they just haven’t picked,” he said.
When the harvest will begin to ramp up and when it will hit its stride “is really hard to predict,” Mr. Taft said. “We thought that we would be in pretty good stride now. We are running, and we have been for a while, but it is still relatively light volume. I think it will probably be a few more weeks before it will kick up.”
By mid to late March, the fruit “sure better be flowing,” he said, because otherwise, toward the end of the season, “we will have all this fruit left and not enough days” to move it.
Some customers were beginning to talk about making the switch to California fruit, but “I wouldn’t say it is a big number,” Mr. Taft said. Some of them are wishing it had a little bit more size.
And yet, the fruit coming in from Mexico has been heavy to large sizes lately, and “I don’t think that is going to change,” he said. “I think it is going to stay that way for the rest of the way through. That has certainly been a factor this year. They have certainly had an inordinate amount of large-sized fruit,” and that should provide opportunities for the smaller-sized fruit from California at the beginning of the California season. “That is a factor that California hopefully can take advantage of going forward.”
At Eco Farms, “we see about the same increase that the industry sees from last year,” he said. “Like always, some groves are heavier and some are lighter, but overall it will be a little heavier.”
The company’s growers in the southern growing districts are facing the same challenges as other avocado growers in the area. “Here in the South, there is a lot of pressure from high water bills,” Mr. Taft said. “They are just way, way off the charts. The southern grower is under a lot of pressure,” because the high water costs combined with the current market prices, the situation is “not sustainable.”
Eco Farms has growers in the northern districts as well, where high water costs are not as much of an issue. “Actually, for us and for the whole industry, I think, the last few years” production has been shifting “more to the North than the South.”
New on sales at Eco Farms this season is Eric Thurston, who came on board in December. He was previously on sales at Giumarra for many years and also did a stint with Earthbound Farms, Mr. Taft said. Also on sales, along with Mr. Taft, are Cecelia (Cissy) Ortiz and Mike Sterkowicz.