Water shortage dampens some California growers’ prospects

08/14/2014 11:45:00 AM
Jim Offner

California avocado growers produced a crop of about 315 million pounds, even though water is becoming a scarce and expensive commodity.

A three-year drought has brought on massive conservation efforts across the state, with Gov. Jerry Brown declaring a state of emergency in January.

Water conservation efforts by a majority of water suppliers in California show that water use declined statewide by 5% through May 2014, according to survey results received by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The state’s 315 million-pound avocado volume may not be reached next year if the dry conditions persist, some marketers said.

“We have seen some stumping of trees in California for water conservation, but the near term impacts are minimal compared to the long term concern for continued drought conditions,” said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, Irvine.

Stumping involves cutting tree branches that have water-sapping foliage. The practice doesn’t kill a tree, but it takes it out of production, marketers note.

There is some reason to hope for relief, DeLyser said.

“We join those who are hopeful that the forecasts for an El Niño system will bring much needed moisture to the region,” she said.

DeLyser also said the commission is continuing to take grower water concerns to state officials and district water personnel.

Evidence of the drought will be apparent at the end of the 2014 California crop, said David Fausset, salesman/category manager with Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc.

“California will play only a small role in September, as a lack of rainfall and warmer temperatures have increased maturity levels,” he said.

He noted that the 315 million-pound state volume followed back-to-back years with totals of 500 million and 470 million pounds.

More emergency water plans were due to be rolled out across the state at the end of July, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing with Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc.

“Some people say this is the third year of the drought; it’s at least the second and it’s getting pretty darn serious,” he said.

However, Wedin said, there is water for next year for avocado crops.

“What it’s going to cost isn’t quite clear yet,” Wedin said.

He said an El Niño would resolve a lot of worries.

“Some people say there is a 70% chance of an El Niño, and that means a lot of rain; if we don’t get rain this winter, things are just going to go to a whole different level,” he said.


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