Agriculture

Can avocado growers keep up with demand?

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If avocados were to have their own Instagram page, the followers would be plenty and the pictures would receive more ‘likes’ than cute puppies.

#Avocado has more than 4 million posts.

The per capita consumption in Australia is 3.2 kg per person, a huge increase from 1.5 kg in 1999, according to Avocados Australia. If this doesn’t prove our obsession with avocado, the frequency of it being mentioned on social media should convince you.

Just recently avocado made the news when demographer Bernard Salt wrote a column in The Australian claiming that an obsession with the smashed avocado brunch staple was preventing some young people from saving for a house deposit.

Like a true fan protecting a favourite celebrity, a very defensive response was given on social media.

There’s no denying that avocados are more popular than ever, but the future of this desirable food is being questioned.

Avocados are almost humanlike plants. They are easily affected by changes in temperature and require a specific water amount to be perfect. Drought conditions have affected avocado growers in California, Chile and also Mexico.

In recent years Western Australia has also experienced a drying trend, whereby the climate is getting warmer and water levels are declining.avocado-1396986_1920

Annual rainfall is 15 per cent less than in 1970s, according to WA’s Department of Water and groundwater levels have been declining as well.

At the same time, demand for avocados is steadily increasing.

Nationally production has increased by 16 per cent compared to last year.

So how are local growers, who produce about 37 per cent of the total Australian avocado crop, coping with increased demand and warmer conditions?

Alan Blight, owner of Avo West in Carabooda, says in some years growers have had to use less water because dams have not filled properly, and the yield has been impacted.

“Water is a precious resource and most avocado growers realise this,” he says.

George Ipson, owner of Mayfield Park Farm in Manjimup, says the drying climate has an impact and is a “major concern”.

“Supply is an issue at the moment, demand is higher, which is certainly putting pressure on water supply,” he says.

Fortunately, the state government is looking at easing the pressure for some avocado growers.

Department of Water executive director regional delivery and regulation Paul Brown says: “While avocado growing areas are experiencing the drying climate trend, our system of regulating the take of water to sustainable limits will help avoid negative environmental impacts.

“The $40 million Royalties for Regions funded Water for Food program Southern Forests: Water Futures project is investigating opportunities to develop an irrigation scheme in the Manjimup and Pemberton areas, where there are avocado orchards.

“The scheme looks to ensure growers have access to water in addition to their own self-supply dams, which will in turn provide greater certainty and reliability as the climate continues to change. The scheme will also allow water to move to the highest irrigated agriculture economic use, including for avocado production.”

For avocado growers, weather changes are an ongoing challenge.

“Our biggest issue occurs this time of the year while we try to set fruit,” Ipson explains. “If the weather goes bad or cold for two to three weeks, instead of it being a five or six million tray crop next year, it could be a one to two million tray crop, and it could just be because of this weather events that occur in next three weeks.”

Despite the challenges, production is expected to grow in coming years.

“Production will be up to 12-15 million trays, which is a three to fourfold increase,” Ipson says. “My production will go from 150 hectare to 400 hectare in production in five to six years, to 1.5 million plus trays in production.

“It’s a young industry, we are trying to develop different technique and ways of managing the crops to even out the yields.”

Owner of Jasper Farms in Busselton, Neil Delroy, says 170 hectares on his property are being developed, of which more 135 hectares would planted by end of this year.

“It’s been a fantastic production,” he says. “The good thing about avocado is that there is large variety of uses and also it’s healthy, a perfect product.”avocado-1386755_1280

Increases in production mean prices are unlikely to keep going up, according to growers

“The industry is training up, production will ramp up very quickly and from consumer point of view, the prices will get cheaper,” Ipson says.

Delroy agrees, saying: “I don’t think the price is going to increase. I think there is enough supply coming on to meet the demand.”

Nevertheless, sustainability is something that avocado consumers should consider, according to Curtin University dietician and lecturer, Janine Wright, who recommends people eat fruit and vegetables that are in season.

“We have to keep in mind what we can sustainably eat, otherwise we are recommending styles of eating that don’t match our resources and aren’t best for the earth,” she says. “Sustainability needs to be part of the picture.”

 

Categories: Agriculture

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