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IN SEASON

All Quite on the Avocado Front

June 17, 1998|RUSS PARSONS

Most California farmers are running themselves ragged, fretting about this or that from the crazy spring weather. Just this week it was announced that the California cherry crop would be 70% less than normal.

But on the avocado front, everything's calm. Isn't that about what you'd expect?

"I think it's very similar to last year," says Rob Wedin, marketing director of Calavo Growers of California, a cooperative that represents about 2,000 avocado growers from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, who supply about 35% of the nation's avocados.

"It's a good year, and I guess that's pretty normal," he says. "I think everybody is doing fairly well with the situation. Prices are good for the farmers, but they're pretty reasonable for the consumer too."

This happy state of affairs is no accident. Avocados are an oddity in the produce world, a fruit that offers a farmer almost unlimited "shelf life." Even after it reaches full maturity, an avocado will hang on the tree up to eight months--barring windstorm, heat wave or other disaster.

So while other farmers are forced to accept market prices within a week or two of their fruit being ready, avocado growers can afford to sit back and wait for prices they like.

The Hass avocado--which makes up about 85% of the fruit Calavo sells--begins its season around Thanksgiving. By the end of January, almost all of the avocados will be fully mature and will ripen to be creamy and flavorful. From that point, they can hang on the tree until July, or even August in some years, though peak harvest is May and June.

There are exceptional years when things go crazy, but they are rare. In 1993, for example, there was a bumper crop that cut prices to less than a third of what they are today. Even this season, there was a brief dip in prices after a windstorm that knocked many avocados off trees. Of course, since the fruit is also hard as a rock until days after the harvest, most of these could be sold with no problem. Even when things go wrong, avocado farmers are all right.

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FARMERS' MARKET WATCH

If there is a prettier setting for a farmers' market than the Redondo Beach pier, take me there. Held on a street that winds along a bluff just yards from the surf, on Thursday morning it was glorious even in the rain.

Cuevas Farms from Fresno had potatoes, red and white bunching onions and green garlic. Top Veg, which grows in Carson, had zucchini flowers, golden beets, onion and garlic chives, rose geranium leaves and shiso leaf, as well as a wide variety of lettuces and herbs. Tanaka Farms from Irvine had corn and purple broccoli. Paul Kitagawa from Thermal had an assortment of peppers, eggplant, okra and corn. Pete Siracuse had locally caught sand dabs, halibut, swordfish and both albacore and bluefin tuna.

Tree fruit was also in abundance.

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