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California avocado crop is in recovery after Thomas fire




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California is known for its avocados. But with the Thomas fire burning through the state's agricultural areas, many orchards have been charred.  Ventura County is home to a third of California's avocado farms--the largest in the state.

To find out how Ventura County's avocado farms have been affected by the fires, and whether avocado toast will be getting more expensive, Meghan McCarty Carino spoke to John Krist, CEO of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

What do you know so far about how many avocado farms have been affected?

KRIST: We have about 18,000 acres of avocados in Ventura County, and about 4,500 of those acres were directly within the fire perimeter.

Are avocado orchards more susceptible to fire damage than other crops in the area?

KRIST: They're more susceptible for a couple of reasons. They're up in the hills and are the first thing fires in the hills hit. The nature of a grove, the cultural practices, they tend to shed a lot of leaves over the course of the season and growers leave those leaves on the orchard because it provides a great natural mulch to hold moisture in the soil. The downside of that is they burn. 

How long will it take for avocado farms to recover?

KRIST: The expert advice to the growers is to wait a few weeks and see how the trees respond. They look terrible now, but the trees may recover fully... If you have to replace the entire tree, you're not going to see commercial fruit for three to five years at best. If the root system or the trunk is OK, you can graft on to them and get it a little faster.

Is financial assistance available?

KRIST: There's crop insurance that many growers have. Avocados are a squirrel fruit anyway. They bear very heavily one year and light the next, susceptible to freezes and, of course, fire and wind. There's a lot of assistance and aid for growers administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

There's a lot of competition coming in from Mexico. How will this affect California growers while they wait to recover?

KRIST: We've reached an accommodation with the import of avocados from Mexico. Everyone benefits from increasing consumer demand. One way to do that is to have avocados available in the market all year. California has a long season, but not 12 months long, so we like having fruit there all the time. California avocados compete very well with Mexico because of their quality. We grow the best avocados in the world. Because it was such a small percentage of the overall crop that was burned, we'll see a slight reduction, which will more than be made up for by production for other areas. Consumers won't see a big change in the price or availability of avocados.

Interview has been edited for clarity