The Seedier Side of Avocado Prices: Protectionism in California's Avocado Industry
February 23, 2010 1:43 AM   Subscribe

Yummy avocados. So contentious...and at expensive. Why have prices in the U.S., particularly California, been so high? And why have they dropped? Weather and a bad crop? Or are the causes often more insidious? A one act play sums up one perspective on the situation.

Seriously, are California avocado growers trying to limit the competition in the guise of pest control?

Since 1914, avocados from Mexico (currently the world's #1 avocado producer) have been banned in the U.S. due to claims over pest infestation. In 1994, NAFTA opened the US to Mexican avocados, but avocado growers in California vehemently fought against the measure, claiming Mexican avocados would bring pests into the country.

Are pests a legitimate issue? The answer varies on the source. While some sources claim legitimate pest issues exist, other sources claim the pest issue is unfounded.

While hard evidence of the pest threat is still being sought, California avocado growers, through groups like the California Avocado Commission, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying activity and lawsuits, in an effort to stop the importation of Mexican avocados. A report by the CATO institute provides a detailed breakdown and history of the avocado wars, claiming Californian avocado growers are abusing inspection standards to protect their share of the industry.

The battle continues. In 2007, more than two decades after NAFTA, and after much stalling, Mexican trucks are finally allowed to bring Mexican avocados into California and Florida..

The California Avocado Commission decides to file suit.

Even more recently, Mexico sues the California Avocado Commission for "spreading falsehoods" about Mexican avocados.
posted by thisperon (69 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
This is a big issue in Australia - not with avocados, but with bananas (from the phillippines), apples (new zealand) potatoes (also new zealand), and a host of others. Primary producers here have spent many years with a wide range of subsidies and tariff protections, and fight their removal most vociferously.

Ferreting out the 'truth' from the tangled skein of lobbying, subsidies, free trade lobbyists, etc. is a very difficult task. I pity the minister charged with overseeing it, and even more the public servants beholden to whichever pressure is pushing the minister that current week.
posted by smoke at 1:57 AM on February 23, 2010

I didn't realize New Zealand produce was the subject of so much contention. I thought NZ and Australia were pretty friendly trade partners, in my unschooled U.S. mind...

It's pretty crazy, these conflicts. I think the average consumer ends up losing out in the end, because now the price of the produce (at least in the U.S.) includes the amount spent on lobbying.

So basically, I am paying a crazy price for a California avocado because I'm also paying for the lobbyist who will pressure the politician to keep Californian avocado prices high.

I think if CAC continues to push out Mexican growers, I'm going to boycott them. (You can see where I stand on the claims of pest infestation...I am highly skeptical.)
posted by thisperon at 2:12 AM on February 23, 2010

And just to give an idea of prices in CA, the highest I ever paid was 2.88 for a single avocado.

Recently I was able to buy one for .99 or so. (Lowest was probably .88). They seem to be climbing up in price again.
posted by thisperon at 2:14 AM on February 23, 2010

the highest I ever paid was 2.88 for a single avocado

Avocado's Number.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:31 AM on February 23, 2010 [38 favorites]

Reading about food at 10:30am on an empty stomach is utter torture. I can smell it, and taste it... one half of a lightly toasted bread roll, topped with slices of soft avocado and rashers of fried streaky bacon, moistened with a drizzle of olive oil, seasoned by way of Maldon Sea Salt and cracked black pepper.

If I had to marry a piece of fruit, it'd be a plump, female avocado. The marriage would be brief of course, but I'd treat her like a princess until her messy death.
posted by Usher at 2:39 AM on February 23, 2010 [12 favorites]

Data point: I live in CA. My local Trader Joe's grocery recently had avocados from New Zealand, and at a good price, too. At the time I assumed this was a seasonal thing, similar to the Chilean produce we often see at the grocers during our winter, but now I am wondering if there might be more to that? Seems odd that importing avocados from New Zealand is more cost effective than buying them someplace in the Americas.

Very interesting FPP. We eat a lot of avocados in our house, but I had no idea the avocado lobby was so powerful.
posted by mosk at 2:43 AM on February 23, 2010

The marriage would be brief of course, but I'd treat her like a princess until her messy death.

Usher--ARGH. Thanks for the imagery which I'm sure was much more innocent than that I ended up conjuring in my head.
posted by thisperon at 2:56 AM on February 23, 2010

I had no idea the avocado lobby was so powerful.

I feel that this is actually the most insidious thing about this topic. The fact very few people know what's going on. I really had to dig to get a lot of these links.

Yes, we hear about how powerful lobbyists are all the time, but a lot of actual, specific stuff that happens never makes it to most of the public.
posted by thisperon at 3:15 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

My wife grew up in Hawaii, and every year when we go back to visit her family some Aunt, Uncle or friend will go in their yard and pluck a perfectly ripe avocado the size of a cantaloupe off of a tree, one of the thousand or so just hanging there. And on the way, they'll walk past the mango trees, another wonderful fruit for which we regularly pay out the nose.

posted by nevercalm at 3:58 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

My family comes from this region of Mexico - the state of Michoacan. Avocados are as cheap and plentiful as dirt. They're eaten all day.

For breakfast, for example, fresh, warm, corn tortillas with half an avocado and some queso fresco in it is a great way to start the day.
posted by vacapinta at 4:05 AM on February 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

All you people with cheap, easy access to lucky!!!

Vacapinta--From one of the articles:

"In Michoacan, the US Department of Agriculture has been conducting rigorous inspections of the avocado crop since 1997 - and not a single shipment has been turned back because of the pests. "

You know, this argument about having pests seems so weak. Even if it were true, and Mexican avocados had pests (which based on the evidence, I seriously doubt), apparently the avocados still keep growing, enough to export over the border.

So California growers who claim to feel threatened by pests, why would they be threatened? Apparently the pests aren't strong enough to wipe out a Mexican crop. Why would it wipe out a Californian one? I know the climates are a little different, but not THAT DIFFERENT. Major avocado producers are located in San Diego, for crying out loud.
posted by thisperon at 4:26 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've got cheap, easy avocados and I'm in New England. Of course, I'm destroying the environment. But the fresh guacamole!

But seriously, I've been buying them regularly for several years and I haven't noticed any price fluctuations. Then again, I'm notoriously oblivious to price fluctuations in things I buy regularly.
posted by DU at 4:39 AM on February 23, 2010

Avocados are fucking amazing.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:01 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

In 2007, more than two decades after NAFTA,

2007 - 1994 = 13 years.

Just sayin.
posted by bukharin at 5:08 AM on February 23, 2010

I have imported
the avocados
that were in
the Mexico

and which
you were probably
through tariffs

Forgive me
they were delicious
and made
such great guac.
posted by The White Hat at 5:12 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Usher, that last statement was so awesome I have already reposted it. It's like you cracked open my brain and expressed so eloquently something I have felt for years, but was unable to express on my own.
posted by piratebowling at 5:14 AM on February 23, 2010

I bought a couple avocados a few days ago and they were a normal price (I don't remember what, exactly, but nothing that made me go No, The Avocados Are Too Expensive! I'm in California). I walked by one of the larger Latino markets last week and noticed that avocados (probably from Mexico but I wasn't really paying attention) were 4/$1. They were the really teeny kind. I should have bought some because now I want one for breakfast. I'm out of bacon but I'd go downstairs to the garden and get a Meyer lemon off the tree to squeeze some on that avocado toast Usher made me think about.
posted by rtha at 5:41 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh to cut open a beautiful avocado only to find it old, withered and rotting on the inside.

I do not wish that on anybody. No, not even sarah Palin, though in Alaska I'm sure she just eats Moose heart for breakfast with freshly squeezed Liberal Blood on the side.

To read twoleftfeet "Avocado's Number." plug followed up by Usher's quick marriage. This day is going to be righteous.
posted by zombieApoc at 5:50 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm wishing for $2.88 avocados now. (And you tell me they can be had even cheaper? I might need to move to Mexico...) I live in Australia now, and my local store carries them for $4.99 apiece. (You can get them slightly cheaper at the big chain grocery stores, but still.)

I love finding out about stuff like this, though. It's amazing how powerful a business based on just one fruit can be - reminds me of reading the book about bananas, and how that industry permanently reshaped much of central America. Thanks for the post!
posted by po at 5:52 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the comedic beat might work better if the Corn Lobbyist had a huge suitcase he would slam down on the podium and just throw handfulls of unwrapped cash.

Funnier to me anyway.
posted by The Whelk at 6:03 AM on February 23, 2010

I've seen $3.99 in Brooklyn occasionally. But the average is about $2.99. I will not ignore an avocado due to price. Only excessive softness that means the inside is gunk. And not the luscious post mashing gunk, either.
posted by Splunge at 6:14 AM on February 23, 2010

I take your puny Hass / Mexican avocado and raise you one West Indian avocado.
posted by adamvasco at 6:14 AM on February 23, 2010

The closest I've come to truly believing in a god is when slicing up a delicious, ripe avocado. How can something so delightful exist in nature? Fuck the mountains, fuck the sea -- avocados are what do it for me.
posted by nitsuj at 6:29 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

They're usually around $3 in brooklyn, but recently I've seen some for $2 or even $1.50 (2 for $3). And I usually only buy the Hass avocados, the "alligator pear" ones, but I did try the big smooth green ones at the grocery down the street when they were going for 99¢... My experience has been that for the most part, they are cheaper because they are going bad, or they are particularly small (and that includes the pits being bigger than you think so there is less actual fruit, even if they look big). But sometimes it is actually a deal.
I dunno if there's a trend, but I'll keep investigating...
posted by mdn at 6:32 AM on February 23, 2010

I've come to prefer the West Indian avocado over the Haas; it is marketed here as the "Lo Fat" avocado. It has a good avocado flavor without the heavy, oily aftertaste of a Haas but it isn't watery tasting like the other Florida types. Also it is a bargain because the seed to meat ratio is 3 or 4 times that of a Haas while the price is usually only double.

I'm another native of So. Cal and paying for lemons, limes, and avocados has been a pain-- I grew up accustomed to getting these for free. On the other hand, I can now walk down my neighborhood block in NC and gather up pecans off the ground. So there is that.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:35 AM on February 23, 2010

$1.50 is the lowest I've ever paid here in Massachusetts, but they usually hover in the $2.50 range. God, if I could buy avocados for $.25 I would have them for every fucking meal. Baguette with avocado and a nice sharp cheddar, stuck in the oven for 10 minutes until the bread is just slightly toasted and the avocado is warm and the cheese is melty. Mmmm.
posted by marginaliana at 6:47 AM on February 23, 2010

I understand the main reason for restrictions of apple imports from New Zealand into Australia is Fireblight. That's not to say that quarantine issues haven't ever been exaggerated as a means of protectionism, but it isn't the complete story.
posted by CaveFrog at 6:54 AM on February 23, 2010

Oh we do love trade protection. The fact that mefites in the US have likely never had Iranian pistachios ... oh, the flavour you're missing. Californian pistachios are tiny and nasty, no flavour at all.
posted by scruss at 7:12 AM on February 23, 2010

I don't think the Iranian pistachios is about protectionism so much.
posted by electroboy at 7:15 AM on February 23, 2010

They run about $1.19 year-year round here in The Ozarks but they drop to about $.60 the week after The Superbowl.
posted by sourwookie at 7:31 AM on February 23, 2010

I understand the main reason for restrictions of apple imports from New Zealand into Australia is Fireblight.

Apple fruit, or apple trees? Fire blight is spread from necrotic tissue via birds and insects. Infection of the tree takes place through blossoms or wounds (pruning cuts or injury). I've never heard of it being spread through fruit.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:41 AM on February 23, 2010

The main reason I continue to live in Texas is for it's $0.99 avocados, year-round. Oh yes.
posted by Peter Petridish at 7:44 AM on February 23, 2010

The above prices are insane. Seriously, three dollars or more for an avacado? Here in Chicago, the local megamart typically has avocados for about $1.30, this week they were on sale for $1/each. The fruit and veggie place I go to on the north side (Stanley's on Elston) had small avocados 3/$1, and jumbo ones for a little over a dollar. Guacamole should be a basic human right.
posted by borkencode at 7:59 AM on February 23, 2010

Avocados: The other green meat.
posted by Danf at 8:16 AM on February 23, 2010

$2.88 for an avocado in California? What the hell? You guys grow the damn things! For comparison, they are currently about £1/$1.60 in Britain at a supermarket (and much, much cheaper at a market if you know where to look). And this is in a notoriously expensive country where we don't grow the things or even have a climate that can come close.
posted by Francis at 8:23 AM on February 23, 2010

ok, that play is funny if it wasn't so true.

That's interesting. Never gave it much thought, but in Ontario I can buy them from between $.79 — $.98 and 5 for $3.99. They aren't that large this time of year and I don't know where they're from. At the Whole Foods Ripoff they may be $2. — $3 each, apparently 'organic'.

Funny how so much food for export gets exemption crossing borders, but take a plane and try personally bringing a salami or something on board or nuts in your luggage, it'll get confiscated.

Crossing the border by car from Canada to the USA one time, I was asked if my banana was from the USA. The fact it didn't have a sticker where it was made, they wanted me to toss it before they would let me through. So I ate it there and then, holding up border crossing.

Sounds like this infestation claim is a trading protectionist issue. Look at what the US rice growers and their lobbyists persuade US powers that be did to Haiti. Till recently, it was cheaper to purchase imported rice from the US, than purchasing locally grown. Now the farmlands lay idle, increasing poverty and the hell with even subsistence farming. I wonder if things will change post earthquake.

It's not so much one fruit or product as much as the money to be made feeding so many millions of people and cornering a market. I'm looking at you Monsanto and your lawyers.

There was a saying in Mexico, you can make a dog wag it's tale for a peso. Change that to any country.
posted by alicesshoe at 8:33 AM on February 23, 2010

Avocado on a BLT. Thank me later.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:48 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this is related, but lately, I've noticed a distinct decline in the quality of the avocados in the supermarket here in the Atlanta burbs. They still cost around the usual $1/$1.25, but I've noticed that about half the avocados I've bought lately have turned out to be mostly rotten. I've actually returned them to the store a couple of times - they're just too damn expensive to throw away.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:51 AM on February 23, 2010

The Greatest Recipe On Earth. (No, Really).

you will need 1 small can of black beans and 1 of corn for every 2 Hass-sized avocados or;
2 small cans of black beans and 1 bag of frozen corn for every 4 avocados, plus:

limes -- lots, and with nice skin for zesting
salt, fresh black pepper
optional: hot pepper, a little Penzey's onion powder

Beans and corn into a bowl. Zest the limes. Squeeze out the juice. I love lime, so usually 4-5 of them for me. Cut up the avocado into black-bean-sized pieces. You're aiming for roughly equivalent amounts of avocado, bean and corn. Mix gently with a spatula, eat with margarita lime white corn chips or anything you can get your hands on.

I pretty much lived on this stuff when I had a broken elbow and couldn't cook anything too complex by myself. I get begged to bring this to parties, press-ganged into making it for my family when I visit them on vacation... it is the greatest stuff ever.
posted by at 9:13 AM on February 23, 2010 [19 favorites]

I (no joke) come from a long line of California avocado farmers. Avocados put me through med school.

I once asked my uncle on what basis he thought it was reasonable to exclude Mexican avocados from the California market. IIRC he answered that the CA avocado consortium developed and nurtered the North American avocado market, at great expense. Think of all the billboards, print, and TV ads. They used to be able to exclude avocados on the basis of their oil content, or let them in only during certain parts of the year.

There would be almost no demand for ANY avocados in N. America if not for the Avocado Council's efforts. So the protectionism almost seems reasonable. But certainly you can understand Mexican growers' eagerness to get into the U.S. market.

Now the Californians will have to defend their product on the basis of quality (which has generally been better). I'm sure the Mexican and Chilean growers are working hard at improving their quality, though.

Best way to eat an avocado? Sliced in half, squeeze lemon juice into the hole in the middle, sprinkle with salt. Eat with a spoon.
posted by etherist at 9:24 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

etherist: Millions of first, second and third generation Mexicans living in California now, your uncle's argument is invalid.

But yeah, avocados with coarse salt and lime juice are awesome. With emphasis on the awe.

I have a nice camping route that involves stopping to sleep at abandoned mango and avocado groves close to the ocean. Not just Hass avocados or Ataulfo mangos, all kinds. The only risk is that marijuana and opium growers use the same roads and trails and you risk getting killed or kidnapped, which may or may not be an acceptable risk for you For me, being able to take a single bite off hundreds of different avocados and mangos and taste the subtle differences is worth it.
posted by dirty lies at 9:43 AM on February 23, 2010

I wish my avocado tree would grow faster.
posted by GuyZero at 10:18 AM on February 23, 2010

There would be almost no demand for ANY avocados in N. America if not for the Avocado Council's efforts

Like dirty lies, I think immigration would have taken care of that. Not only from direct demand from immigrants, but because of the American proclivity to look at what your neighbor is eating and decide it looks pretty good. When I was young and my (non-Latino) parents lived in Texas, they feasted on guacamole, like everyone - it had pervaded Texas culture along with the Hispanic presence. When they relocated to New Jersey in the 1970s people were weirded out by the 'green stuff,' when they could even find avocados. It's a food that kind of creates its own demand once you're exposed directly to it.

I think the uncle's argument is still a little week. When you're promoting a relatively undifferentiated product like a vegetable, there's an inherent risk that anyone else who can grow them will usurp your market. product differentiation seems to be a better support for the domestic produce market than protectionism. Though I'm usually fine with some protectionism, particularly agricultural.
posted by Miko at 10:44 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I dunno. There are lots of types of produce that are still niche items. Napa cabbage. Cherimoya. Sweet Limes. Lotus Root. Asian Pears. Plantains. Without marketing avocados could be as (un)popular as those items. Don't underestimate marketing's ability to create demand.
posted by GuyZero at 11:03 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sweet limes are a good example, GuyZero. I eat them constantly when in Mexico and I have no idea why they are not more popular. They are basically lemonade-fruit!
posted by vacapinta at 11:11 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, yes, and Cherimoyas!
There's nothing like them. Trying to explain how delicious a cherimoya is is like trying to explain why you like cinammon or chocolate. I think they're known as custard-apples too.
posted by vacapinta at 11:15 AM on February 23, 2010

I love avocado. More than I love my fiance (don't tell him I said that). And GuyZero, don't get me going on Asian Pears. And both are improved with a squirt of lemon and a sprinkle of salt. Oh man, I wonder if I can combine them somehow...
posted by specialagentwebb at 11:16 AM on February 23, 2010

We got our first sweet limes a couple weeks ago and my son proceeded to eat a bag of them in a couple days. They're indeed candy in a citrus peel. After eating one I was stunned that they were not everywhere. That's also the infamous durian, dragoneyes/longan, etc. It never ceases to amaze me that I can still find completely new fruits and vegetables as I approach middle age. But avocado could be in exactly the same category were it not for the tireless work of a few suit-clad Madison Avenue Übermensch.
posted by GuyZero at 11:33 AM on February 23, 2010

And my peeps grow cherimoyas as well. Nothing is as good as a ripe cherimoya, and nothing is as repulsive as an overripe one.

I don't think they ship a lot of cherimoyas out of the area. They sell most of them at farmers' markets, and to local grocers that have a lot of SE asian customers.

Absolutely, Hispanic (please forgive the imprecise usage) immigration to the US could be expected to gradually increase demand for avocados. But it's plausible that among non-Hispanics, marketing greatly increased the demand.

There is not much advertising support for cherimoyas, and there is not much demand for cherimoyas from Anglos. I know that's imprecise usage - should be "among non-Central-American/non-South American/non-Southeast Asian/non-Filipinos", I guess. There are cherimoya devotees, but cherimoyas have nothing like the broad market penetration of avocados.
posted by etherist at 11:34 AM on February 23, 2010

From the paper linked to above:

"The evidence suggests that there are strong economic incentives for domestic avocado producers to oppose imports of Mexican avocados. The U.S. industry has large fixed costs invested in existing groves. Start-up costs in avocado production, which are large in any
case, are especially high in California owing to the drip irrigation systems required. Once in place, an avocado orchard can remain productive for as long as 40 years. Costs for establishing an orchard in the southern region of California were $15,372 per acre for the initial 6 years in 1992 (Orden and Romano 1996: 8). In contrast, orchard development costs in Mexico were 25 percent of the costs in California in 1991 (American Farm Bureau 1991). The total investment in avocado orchards by California may be as high as $1 billion."

So you can understand why the monopolists would oppose the efforts of Mexican growers, even if you don't agree with the monopolists.
posted by etherist at 11:38 AM on February 23, 2010

So where can I get sweet limes?
posted by etherist at 11:39 AM on February 23, 2010

And just to give an idea of prices in CA, the highest I ever paid was 2.88 for a single avocado.

Recently I was able to buy one for .99 or so.

One more data point: Organic avocados are currently $1.25 per at the Oakland/Temescal farmer's market.

In other news, SUGAR
posted by mrgrimm at 12:07 PM on February 23, 2010

The Oxford Companion to Food claims there are more than 500 distinct varieties of avocado.

I've been able to find maybe 4 during my lifetime here in the US.
posted by jamjam at 12:12 PM on February 23, 2010

etherist--your claims seem to support the belief that ca avocado farmers are trying to restrict competition and protect their investment--and they aren't actually concerned about pests.

if this is true I'd say Mexico has a legitimate law suit against cac defaming their avocados.
posted by thisperon at 12:39 PM on February 23, 2010

As a pesco-vegetarian, avocado has become my bacon: I know that I can add it to anything to easily and instantly improve a dish.

This thread has made me very hungry.
posted by lord_wolf at 1:09 PM on February 23, 2010

So where can I get sweet limes?

I saw tons at the Alemany farmers market last week (San Francisco).

Bought a cherimoya, too. Cost a fortune but oh so good.
posted by rtha at 1:17 PM on February 23, 2010

The Oxford Companion to Food claims there are more than 500 distinct varieties of avocado.

I've been able to find maybe 4 during my lifetime here in the US.

Most varieties will have lower yields and/or have a less appealing fruit versus the Hass and other commercial varieties. Plus I guess consumers are dumb and won't realize that avocados can look two different ways. There are hundreds of types of apples and oranges and lemon and such too but most aren't commercially viable. That's why I was so hyper-hyped up about moving to a climate where many more types of fruit trees grow because you can get all kinds of odd varieties from a nursery as opposed to the grocery store. Non-stop Meyer lemons chez GuyZero this year.

Most commercial fruit trees are grafts onto rootstock and are, in a sense, clones of one original tree. Surprisingly few types of plants are well-suited for commercial-scale agriculture. Those that are get used very, very widely.
posted by GuyZero at 1:40 PM on February 23, 2010

You should be able to get sweet limes and cherimoyas in most south bay farmers markets too. I guess they're in season around here or wherever they come from.
posted by GuyZero at 1:41 PM on February 23, 2010

Waaaaait, tell me more about these sweet limes. They're like... lime limes (the Bearss/Persian lime), except they're SWEET?

Ok, who wants to send one to wintry Ohio? I got pawpaw jam to trade.

Also -- speaking of napa cabbage, the chef at Melt (our local grilled cheese sandwich restaurant, you might have seen it on Food Network recently) likes to put it on a lot of stuff/serves a side made out of it with every plate.
posted by at 2:42 PM on February 23, 2010

As a pesco-vegetarian, avocado has become my bacon

Scroll down a little to the first varietal.

Our farmer's market has Zutanos, and the skin is so thin you can blend it up in the guacamole, no peeling.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:55 PM on February 23, 2010

They're like... lime limes (the Bearss/Persian lime), except they're SWEET?

The ones we got had zero acidity. Much sweeter than even a very sweet orange because those have a sweetness/acidity balance going on. But basically a lime without any acidity at all. Who knew?
posted by GuyZero at 3:18 PM on February 23, 2010

After reading this, all I want is avocados. I didn't like them as a kid, then there was some turning point, and - well, I can't get enough of the damn things. My daughter begs for them.

Here in Central NJ of all places, you'll see them on sale for $0.99 a pop at Whole Foods every now and then. Has anyone ever had any luck growing them indoors with a dwarf tree in the manner of a houseplant?
posted by pianoboy at 4:05 PM on February 23, 2010

I am related to a California avocado grower. The concerns about pests are real and legitimate, although clearly it's not the biggest concern-- fact of the matter is that if the market for avocados were completely open, it would be very hard for the vast majority of American family farms to compete in any case, so even if the crop was devastated by either fruit flies or root rot, it wouldn't really matter.

The vast tracts available to Mexican farmers mean that pest control is not nearly as much a concern as it is in California where land, insurance, and labor are far more expensive. In other words, it's so cheap to grow avocados in Mexico that pest control has never really been as important as it is in California where losing a swath of trees can put you in a hole you might never recover from.

Many if not most California avocado growers are small family farms that are bound by a collective called CalAvo. The interesting part is that CalAvo smartly maneuvered itself to be the made importer of foreign fruit, so even as the market opens up, the farmers have a piece of the importing action. It remains to be seen how the pricing will shake out and what the ultimate impact will be on California avocado farmers.
posted by cell divide at 4:27 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

omg this thread makes me hungry and its not mexican food night until thursday :(
posted by supermedusa at 4:30 PM on February 23, 2010

So where can I get sweet limes?

Here in Texas I often see them at Whole Foods and Central Market.
posted by bwanabetty at 4:41 PM on February 23, 2010

In California, an avocado grower can legally shoot you with rock salt from a shotgun if you're trespassing in his grove and he thinks you're poaching avocados. They take protecting their profits very seriously.

I grew up near Carpinteria, which hosts the Avocado Festival every year and has traditionally been a big avocado growing area. A friend once called me in the middle of the work day to tell me to grab as many grocery bags as I could and come over right after work. The grove bordering the top of her block was converting from Fuerte (the smooth green ones) to Hass (the black bumpy ones) and had cut the tops off all the trees. There were drifts of nearly-ripe avocados two feet deep in the gutters, and the fence at the edge of the grove had partially popped off the fence posts from the weight of fruit rolling downhill. It was like Cloudy, With Avocados. Or to put it in Usher terms, like being the Sultan of the Guacamole Harem.
posted by cali at 10:01 PM on February 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

I own two Hass Groves and to answer the question as to why prices are sometimes high in a nutshell:

1) Avocados require a tremendous amount of water to mature and in California water is extremely
expensive and has been rationed with cutbacks of up to 30%.
2) As cell divide mentions above the pest situation is real. We are under a quarantine at this
moment because fruit flies have been found locally from outside invasion. This is costly to spray
and it limits our harvest time with the rules imposed.
3) It is more expensive to operate in America because of labor, taxes, insurance, Govt. requiremnts

There are many other reasons but these are the main reasons. In the end, it is a wonderful fruit and extremely healthy for you. Hope this helps.
posted by Avoman at 7:21 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

2) As cell divide mentions above the pest situation is real. We are under a quarantine at this
moment because fruit flies have been found locally from outside invasion. This is costly to spray
and it limits our harvest time with the rules imposed.

Apologies, but what is meant by "outside invasion?"
Are you saying the fruit flies are from Mexican avocados?
posted by thisperon at 2:28 PM on February 25, 2010

1) Avocados require a tremendous amount of water to mature and in California water is extremely
expensive and has been rationed with cutbacks of up to 30%.

It sounds like a pretty unsustainable crop for the region.
posted by Miko at 4:12 PM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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