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IN SEASON

Stock Fruit

August 03, 1995|RUSS PARSONS

Ever wonder why so many retired stockbrokers seem to own avocado orchards? Maybe it's just their way to keep playing the market.

Most fruits and vegetables must be picked within a few days of reaching maturity, no matter how low or high the going price is. However, a ripe avocado can hang on the tree for six to eight months, just waiting for the right market.

Of course, there are cycles to production, but they tend to be annual in nature; traditionally, a big year is followed by a small one.

This year falls in the middle. Although the 1993 harvest was a record 600 million pounds and last year's rebound was a short 271 million, this year is projected to come in at about 300 million pounds.

That extra 25 million to 30 million pounds is enough to make a big difference in price. In July, 1993, a boom year, avocados sold at wholesale for $7 to $8 per 40-pound case and sold in grocery stores at six and eight for $1. Last July, during the bust, wholesale prices skyrocketed to $37 to $38 a case and--if you wanted an avocado badly enough--you paid $1.59 to $1.69 each .

This year things are settling down, with a $22- to $23-per-case wholesale price and 79 to 99 cents each at retail.

"This is probably about what one would expect in the mythical normal year," says James McCormac, a Fallbrook grower and editor of a weekly avocado market newsletter. "Last year was way too high, and the year before was way too low. This year is OK." The 1995 harvest should run later than usual. It takes a hot spell for trees to begin dropping their fruit, and though the temperatures have gotten up there in the southern growing district--south of Temecula, into northern San Diego County--the northern district, which encompasses Ventura and above, is just getting into the meat of the harvest.

"This year we should be staying strong well into September," says Rob Wedin, vice president of fresh sales for the Calavo grower's co-op.

And as for all those stockbrokers, McCormac concedes that avocados have more than their share of near-hobbyists (more than half of California's growers farm five acres or fewer), but he insists that it's not because of the fruit's intriguing market aspect.

"They just like the lifestyle," the third-generation grower says.

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