Since the first avocado trees were planted in 1912, Fallbrook’s avocado industry’s been thriving. The Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce estimates annual sales near $26 million. However, due to water-access issues, the size of the average avocado is shrinking.
Growers from San Diego to San Louis Obispo are seeing a significant reduction in the size of the fruit. This year’s harvest, though comparable to last year’s in quantity, is yielding lower profits due to smaller fruit.
A carton of avocados is currently earning up to $35, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Last year, prices reached as high as $50 per carton. Thus, local distributors are importing larger varieties from south of the border in hopes of pushing carton prices back up.
About 5000 California avocado growers farm nearly 60,000 acres, producing 90 percent of the country’s avocado crop. According to the California Avocado Commission, approximately 49 percent of the state’s output is grown in San Diego County. With agricultural water rates in the county 30 times higher than in neighboring counties, however, local farmers pay a premium for water to be imported from upstate or the Colorado River.
San Diego farmers have reduced their collective water consumption significantly over the past decade; still, some farmers have had to chop down trees to minimize their operating expense.
Almost all growers in the state market their produce through small packing houses, like Fallbrook distributor Del Rey Avocado. Del Rey packs over 1 million cartons each year, accounting for 10 percent of the state's general avocado market and about 30 percent of the state’s organic avocado market.
Distributors are estimating that more than 400 million cartons of the diminutive California avocados will be sold this year, ranking 2012 as an average production year.