Global demand for the avocado is exploding, and that has members of the World Avocado Organization smiling – except they have a problem. Growing enough of the marvelous green fruit is becoming a significant challenge in the United States, one of the world’s fastest growing avocado markets.
Demand for avocados in the U.S. has surged. Just 15 years ago Americans consumed 1.1 pounds per capita, but by 2014, they were eating almost 6 pounds per person per year. That’s about 2 billion pounds. But what can’t be grown domestically must be imported from other farmers in other countries.
The vast majority of U.S. avocados are produced in California, and growers there aren’t ready to surrender any more market share to such countries as Peru, Brazil, Mexico and Columbia than they have to.
The key is finding a new variety of avocado that can withstand the relatively cold California winters so that avocados can be grown here year-round. The current growing season for avocados is February through September.
The good news is that agricultural researchers are zeroing in on a new avocado variety that may be able to grow all winter, and better yet, taste better than the current dominant variety called the Hass. It’s a species of avocado that was discovered growing naturally in southern California in the early 1920s.
Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, are studying a new variety called the GEM. It’s a close relative of the Hass, but is more robust and cold weather ready. Industry watchers are also excited that GEM recently beat Hass in a series of taste tests. If it can grow all year and taste better – well, that’s the Holy Grail for U.S. avocado growers today.
With a name like GEM, some might think this variety of avocado is genetically modified, but it’s not. There are currently no GMO avocados produced in the U.S., according to the GMOAnswers website.
For now the Hass avocado remains the staple for U.S. producers, but if consumer behavior continues to drive demand forward, farmers will be looking to GEM and other varieties to bolster production. The global share of a dynamic avocado market is at stake, and California producers want to maintain their standing on the world stage.