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— Asked if it's pests or market devaluation that worries local growers, Bednar answers, "[Importation of Mexican avocados] will devalue the market, but my big thing, and I have been in the industry for a long time, has always been the protection of our groves from insects. In recent years, we have had a lot of new Mexican insects that have come up. We have got avocado thrips and persea mite -- which we didn't have five or six years ago -- and it costs us money because we have to spray because those insects damage our fruit."

Stehly insists his opposition to Mexican avocados in California is not economic protectionism. "You have to remember that we have no restrictions against Chile, and Chile has continued to grow their market. They are going to bring over 200 million pounds into our market this next year. And at no time have we ever tried to stop them from coming up here because they are pest-free."

Stehly says the avocado commission will do everything short of a lawsuit to fight against the Department of Agriculture allowing Mexican avocados into California. But even if all restrictions against the importation of Mexican avocados were lifted tomorrow, he believes the economic effect wouldn't be felt soon, and, because of market changes, possibly never. "They have to put in infrastructure," he explains, "they have to get growth certified; there is a lot that has to happen. And the other thing is that weather will affect it. There could be a big freeze or a big wind or something in Mexico, and they could have a short crop, and all of a sudden they don't have enough fruit to send up. And also, last year, the statistics show that 48 percent of the avocados eaten in the United States were eaten by 18 percent of the population. That is what our statistics show. Now, when you look at that kind of a statistic, you know that you've got some room to grow your market, and that is what we as California growers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars doing since the commission has been formed. And last year the National Hass Avocado Board was formed."

The Hass Avocado Board assesses 2.5 cents on every pound of avocados brought by growers to packing houses and also on every pound imported from Chile and Mexico. The money is also used for marketing avocados.

"You have to remember," Stehly adds, "that Mexico produces two billion pounds of avocados a year, but they also consume a lot. They only ship out about 10 percent. And the price in Mexico last year, from what the packing houses have told me, was about the same as what they were getting for sending them up to the United States. So if that is the truth, then as Mexico's economy grows, their demand for the avocado is going to be higher, and they won't make as much money in sending them to the United States."

Bednar finds hope in demographic changes in the domestic market. "It will take some time before Mexico can bring in a lot of avocados," he says, "and in that time we are going to be expanding our market, especially with the tremendous amount of Hispanic growth in the population of the United States. Avocados are a staple in the Hispanic food tradition."

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