Although California avocado industry representatives have heralded the 1995-96 crop year as the third best in the state's history, with $235.2 million returned to growers, local producers remain skeptical.
"When it got back to us, it wasn't that great a year," said Don Reeder at Pro-Ag Inc., an agricultural management firm based in Moorpark.
"It was a year you barely broke even if you owned the land, and if you have debt service it would have been a tough year."
Carlos Vasquez, regional manager at the Calavo growers' cooperative in Santa Paula, characterized crop returns for 1995-96 as similar to the preceding year.
"The only thing that's different is the size is down a little bit," Vasquez said.
The average price paid to growers for all varieties of avocados was 69.1 cents per pound during the 1996 season, with the dominant Hass variety averaging 75.2 cents per pound, according to the California Avocado Commission.
But Reeder said last year's volume of 340.4 million pounds statewide fell about 100 million pounds short of the industry's best seasonal yields.
"You've got to have the volume," he said, adding that growers in some regions with high yields per acre, such as San Diego County, did very well last year.
Reeder said Ventura County produces low yields per acre in comparison with other growing regions. Also, the fruit matured unusually early last season, which also hurt many local avocado growers.
"When prices went up late in the season, we weren't there," he said.
Another reason many local growers are not excited over last year's returns is because they are worried about what is occurring now, three months into the growing season.
Last year's wildfires, which charred avocado-growing areas north of the Santa Clara Valley, along with recent Santa Ana winds that knocked much of the young fruit from trees, and cold temperatures have many local producers already wondering about next year's returns.
"We still have until February before we're out of the wind and cold situation," Vasquez said.
Reeder's outlook was grimmer.
"This year, it isn't adding up right now," he said.