America’s love affair with the avocado and the increased consumption of the tender green fruit is one of the most remarkable stories in agriculture today – but now millions of people addicted to their morning avocado toast should be deeply worried.
That’s because wildfires burning across hundreds of thousands of prime California farmland are destroying hundreds of avocado farms, in many cases taking out entire operations down to the last tree.
California lemon groves are also being hit hard by the fires. Worse yet, both lemon and avocado farms are not well equipped to cope with wildfires. Avocado trees naturally drop tons of tinder in the form of dead leaves that fall from trees and accumulate among the orchards. When fires grab this fuel flames are accelerated with alarming rapidity. Entire farms can be burned in just an hour or two.
The good news for American avocado consumers is that exports from Mexico can go a long way toward filling in demand. But the news is all bad for the American farmer. California’s $45 billion agriculture industry is expected to record massive losses before the flames get under control. But even after the fires are out, it takes months and years to bring farmlands back to full productivity.
While American farmers strive to rebuild, significant shares of the consumer markets can be lost long term to foreign competitors. That means, in many cases, even farmers with insurance to help them back on their feet are starting over from square one.
Yet another major concern across the California farm industry is the likelihood that the fires are here to stay. California Governor Gerry Brown recently called this years’s massive fire outbreak “the new normal.”
Farmers already have many natural enemies to battle each growing season, from insects infestations and plant diseases, to drought or their opposite – flooding.
No doubt, the fires of 2017 will be brought under control, but looking ahead to 2018 will certainly bring more of the same. Finding a way to minimize fire damage presents a major agricultural engineering challenge that may involve developing innovative ways to grow orchards in locations and configuration where fires are less likely to get at them, or cause as much damage if they do.