Wildfires raze avocado farms in California – and farmers livelihood

Global Business

Wildfires raze avocado farms in California - and farmers livelihood

Wildfires have hit California farms hard.The State that grows nearly all avocados and lemons in the country, is losing ground to raging fires. And that could have a knock on effect, across the US. Phil Lavelle reports.

Ventura County calls itself the ‘avocado capital of the world’. But it’s in trouble. This major supply hub of American avocados – most of those grown in the U.S. come from here – is burning.

Wildfires have destroyed hundreds of acres of land. The picture is bleak. “It’s going to have a huge financial impact” says grower, Jason Cole. He’s the third generation of his family to grow the popular fruit on their ranch near Santa Paula, about an hour north of Los Angeles.

A week ago, he was battling flames which were engulfing his land. Now, the flames are gone and so is much of his crop:

“We lost roughly 200 acres, at probably 12-15 thousand pounds an acre… so you figure, that’s two to three million pounds of fruit plus. So, just take 25% of your income and get rid of it. All year, we’ve been getting ready.. we’re one month from harvest.. so it’s just a big loss across the board”, he tells CGTN.

“The hardest part is that power’s been out for the last nine days, so the trees we still have in the ground, we haven’t been able to get water to. And we don’t have access to our booster pumps. And then, on top of that, the trees behind me – if they weren’t damaged as badly as they were – and they are, it’s a total loss – all the irrigation.. the hoses, valves.. all my infrastructure has been burned up as well.”

The problem here is that agriculture is being hit with a double whammy by nature. Not only are the fires engulfing land and crops, but the winds are also causing huge damage.

Video: Here’s how California’s wildfires are impacting farmers

Southern California has a weather system known as the Santa Ana winds: Warm gusts which blow in from the Santa Ana mountains across the area. They’re helping the fires spread, but also it means that avocados are being shaken from the trees. Once they fall to the ground, food safety laws mean they can’t be sold – even if they look fine.

But if it sounds bad, it could have been much worse. Avocado yields are never the same. They tend to run on a cycle of high harvest, then low harvest. It’s not guaranteed, but experts say the fact that the fires hit now, instead of last year or next, means there will be a lot of supply still.

“Avocados are alternate bearing, so one year they’re on, one year they’re off. We already had a crop much larger than last year. While we will see some impact on this year’s crop going into next season, I think overall, our supplies will be strong and steady coming out of California”, Ken Melban of the California Avocado Commission told CGTN.

For the farmers like Jason, they’ve seen their profits literally go up in flames. But they can’t look back. They have to look forward:“It’s a tragedy, but we’re not going to sit around feeling sorry for ourselves, so we’re just going to take all the support we can get from each other and government and make the best out of a very bad and unfortunate situation.”