SAN DIEGO — San Diego County is producing fewer avocados, according to its annual crop report. Farmers are having to deal with climate change issues and rising costs.
“It’s been pretty much a ride, but there’s been highs and lows,” Ben Holtz, owner of California Avocados Direct, told FOX 5 Friday.
Ben Holtz is a fourth-generation avocado farmer at the business. On 100 acres of land, the company has thousands of trees growing 19 different kinds of avocados.
But recent heat waves are making farming harder.
“Once you get over 100, they are really stressing; 108, they are tremendously stressing,” Holtz said, showing an avocado that has been sunburned. “They burn and all these little tender new growth leaves, they just shrivel and torch up. It’s like somebody took a blowtorch and a flame right to them.”
“There’s a period where after a heat spell, you got seven days until you get to hear the rain happen,” Holtz continued. “And the rain is where all the little tender fruit that the tree wants to release will start dropping on the ground.”
It has been a loss of thousands of dollars for them.
“Sometimes it’s 10% of what the tree is holding, it can be very significant,” Holtz said. “It’s a hard thing to swallow but you have to work with the highs and lows.”
Burnet Wohlford, the owner of Heritage Ranch, has three farms: two in Escondido and one in Valley Center. He has hundreds of acres between the properties, growing avocadoes, grapefruit, dragon fruit, lemons, and limes. He says he lost more than 60% of his avocados in 2021 due to the heat.
“We need to make the business climate a lot easier to do business here in California,” he told FOX 5.
Wohlford is also a board member of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. The report released by the county showed avocado value generated $82.8 million in 2021, down from $152.9 million in 2020.
Production also decreased, with trees producing two tons an acre in 2021, but four tons in 2020.
“I think what needs to be done is a lot more work up in Sacramento to help secure our water,” Wohlford continued. “We need to build more reservoirs actually catching the rainwater.”
Farmers said that water rates are going up and the quality is saltier.
“Unlike other industries, there’s no discount for buying more. It’s the same price for the first gallon and it is for the 10 millionth gallon,” he said. “If you want to stay in business for longevity, got to keep doing what you’re doing if you want to survive.”
For farmers like Holtz, that means getting avocado trees that are more modern and are tested to adapt to the changing environment.
“Since we can’t change the water, now we are trying to change the tree,” Holtz said. “So, we are going to make the tree deal with water we have.”