Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Avocados & Latin America

Latin American Avocado Growers & California Fires

Avocados are native to Mexico, C. & S. America. While imports from these regions have grown since 1994's Nafta reduced tariffs, California's San Diego County supplies most of U.S. demand. This summer's fires have damaged 20% of San Deigo's 26,000 acres of avocados. This paves the way for increased imports this year. Pictured here are workers in Uruapan, Michoacan packing avocados for export.

Unfortunately the Chilean avocado crop is down 50% due to a hard freeze in July. This paves the way for Mexico to dramatically increase it's exports to the U.S. Until a few years ago, San Diego County's grower's associations were effective in blocking Mexico's crop through bogus claims of fruit fly issues. The real issue was always the grower's (largely doctors & lawyers) desire to make a killing over-charging for their products in the absence of competition.

There was a similar move by mango growers in Florida to block Mexican mangos from entering the U.S. They didn't want to see consumers enjoy a superior product for a reasonable price, because they couldn't compete. Japan, the masters of incoming quality control processes, repeatedely testified to the U.S. Congress about the absence of any fruit fly issues. Finally the tariffs and restrictions on Mexican mangos and avocados have been lifted. This year, for the first time in 100 years, Mexican avocado growers can ship their product throughout the U.S., even to California.

The earliest record of avocados comes from Peru. A mummy from 800 BC was uncovered with avocado seeds. They were most likely buried with the dead due to aphrodisiac qualities that could prove useful in the afterlife. The Aztec word for avocado is Ahuacuatl meaning testicle tree. Note the fruit of the tree hangs in pairs. Cortez conquered Mexico in 1519 to find avocados everywhere. Today, the state of Michoacan is the avocado capital of the Americas.

Not until 1926 did Mr. Hass discovered the avocado that bears his name. Today there are more than 40,000 acres of avocados in California, over 60% in San Diego County. Before the fire, California had been expected to harvest 338 million pounds this season, according to the Hass Avocado Board.

Chile would have shipped 260 million pounds to the U.S. but July's freeze will limit Chile's exports to about half that amount. Chile's avocados often have more oil than California's, making for a smoother texture. Chilean avocados are grown in the Central Valley, mainly between Petorca and Rancagua. But the transit distance to the U.S. is not easy of this delicate fruit.
Mexico is now expected to ship 425 million pounds this year, a 24% increase over last year's exports. Both avocado and mango consumption have tripled in the U.S. in the past 10 years, and the best place to grow these tropical delights is "south of the border" ... for quality, yield, and price.

Yes, I'm a travel consultant now, but it's fun to keep my pulse on the tropical fruit industry I knew so well during one magical decade of my youth.

Ciao! Mango Steve

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