Fires

The Thomas Fire damaged this year’s avocado crop — will you see higher prices?

The Thomas Fire burned avocado trees at Brokaw Ranch in Santa Paula. The fire struck the biggest avocado-producing region in the United States, taking a toll on the $45 billion agriculture industry.
The Thomas Fire burned avocado trees at Brokaw Ranch in Santa Paula. The fire struck the biggest avocado-producing region in the United States, taking a toll on the $45 billion agriculture industry. NYT

Avocado orchards in the path of the Thomas Fire have taken a hit as the blaze scorched its way up the coast, damaging or burning groves of trees in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Even so, Central Coast growers and agricultural officials say avocado lovers shouldn’t see a hit to their wallets, thanks to overall state production and the availability of imported fruit.

The fire — which has burned more than 270,000 acres and destroyed at least 1,000 structures in a two-week period — has damaged an unknown portion of the 4,500 acres of avocados growing in the burn area, according to the California Avocado Commission.

Ventura County produced 34 percent of the state’s avocados in 2016, putting the area among the top fruit-growing areas in the state. Santa Barbara County was responsible for 10 percent of California’s crop, and San Luis Obispo County growers produced 8 percent, according to the Avocado Commission.

Avocadomap
A map shows avocado groves in green, located in or near the Thomas Fire perimeter in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. California Avocado Commission

John Krist, CEO of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County, said flames from the Thomas Fire burned or damaged at least several hundred acres of avocados growing in the hillsides, although the exact number is unknown.

The blaze destroyed cattle grazing land also located in the hillsides, Krist said. But most of the crops growing in the Ventura River and Ojai valleys remained safe from the flames, he said.

“The fire stayed in the hillsides — that’s where the agricultural damage occurred,” he said.

The fire was fueled by gusting Santa Ana winds — some of which reached 50 to 60 mph — that also damaged avocado groves, where growers will start harvesting fruit in about six weeks, Krist said.

Jim Shanley, a Morro Bay avocado farmer who sells other growers’ fruit using the Morro Bay Avocados brand, said in an email the fire likely damaged about 4 percent of California’s total crop.

That amount should cause “little or no impact,” he wrote. In addition, avocados shipped from Mexico will make up a large portion of the fruit consumed in California, according to Shanley.

Krist and Shanley both said the crop loss would be more harmful to individual growers, with Shanley calling it a “horrible and devastating impact to the families involved.”

“It can be a big deal for individual growers,” Krist said.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseymholden

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