By Hayley Boriss, Henrich Brunke and Marcia Kreith, Agricultural Issues Center, University of California.
Updated January 2013 by Diane Huntrods, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Avocados (Persea americana) are a fruit and not a vegetable. They are thought to have originated in Mexico and Central and South America. Avocado trees were first planted in Florida in 1833 and then in California in 1856. According to NASS, California now accounts for the majority of U.S. avocado production, followed by Florida and Hawaii.
The value of U.S. avocado production increased from $479.1 million in 2010 to $492.1 million in 2011. The total volume amounted to 226,450 tons, an increase of more than 52,120 tons from 2010. According to NASS (2012), the California avocado crop jumped to 195,000 tons, while the Florida crop rose to 31,100 tons. The number of acres under production stabilized at 59,950, and the yield per acre dramatically increased to 3.8 tons.
The dominant variety of avocado grown in California is the Hass variety, while Florida growers typically produce larger, less oily West Indian or Mexican varieties including Booth, Lula and Taylor. California avocados are marketed year round and Florida’s market is from June through March (NASS).
Certain varieties, such as the Hass, have a tendency to bear well only in alternate years. After a season with a low yield, due to factors such as cold (which the avocado does not tolerate well), the trees tend to produce abundantly the next season. This heavy crop depletes stored carbohydrates, resulting in a reduced yield the following season, and thus the alternate bearing pattern becomes established.
Despite rising imports, prices for avocados have generally increased since 1980 due to increasing demand and a growing population, but they have also been highly variable.
In 2011, the average price of U.S. avocados fell to $2,170 per ton, down from $2,750 per ton the previous year. Average California prices fell to $2,400 per ton while average Florida prices fell to $756 per ton. The price for California avocados is higher than that of Florida avocados partly because of varietal differences. (NASS 2012)
Avocados have been marketed as a healthy dietary choice and as a good source of beneficial monounsaturated oil. A whole medium avocado contains approximately 15 percent of the FDA's recommended daily amount of saturated fat. In addition, avocados have 60 percent more potassium than bananas. They are also rich in B vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin K and folate.
The U.S. Federal Hass Avocado Promotion, Research and Information Order was established in 2002, after the USDA lifted the ban that had prohibited entry of Hass avocados from Mexico and Central America since 1914. After lifting the 80-year ban, the United States gradually let avocados enter its market.
Commercial shipments of avocados from approved orchards in Mexico can now be distributed into all 50 states. As border restrictions were relaxed, provisions were put in place to curtail Mexican production, in an attempt to avoid saturation of the U.S. market. A rapid growth in demand soon prompted a dramatic increase in imports.
Safeguards preventing the entry of avocado pests, such as annual field surveys, remain mandatory. The annual net benefit of lifting the ban, while maintaining the required safeguards, was found to total about $70 million (USDA 2006). Another benefit: some Mexican farmers could now earn a living by growing and exporting avocados, ending their migration north.
U.S. per person consumption of avocados has followed a variable but generally increasing trend since 1970, increasing significantly from 1.1 pounds per capita in 1989 to a record 4.5 pounds per capita in 2011. A growing Hispanic population, an increasing awareness of healthier foods and the acceptance of monounsaturated fats have helped to spur demand (ERS 2012).
The ripe fruit can be eaten and used in preparing salads, as a flavoring for ice creams, as a filling for sandwiches and in quick desserts. In Brazil, Vietnam and Taiwan, avocados are frequently used for milkshakes and occasionally added to ice cream. In the Philippines, Jamaica and Indonesia, a dessert drink is made with sugar, milk and pureed avocado. In Central America, avocados are served mixed with white rice. In Chile they are often used in hamburgers, hot dogs and celery salads.
Other uses include pressing the fruit for avocado oil production and using the flesh to mix and apply adobe. Various parts of the avocado have medicinal benefits. When boiled, the leaves are thought to be a remedy for diarrhea. Pulp is used to hasten the formation of pus in wounds. Seeds can be smashed and used as fillers for toothache.
The United States is a net importer of avocados with negligible exports. Between 1995 and 2008, the gap between imports and exports widened substantially. In 2011 total U.S. avocado exports were valued at more than $25.0 million, down 20 percent from $31.3 million the previous year. U.S. avocados are mainly exported to Canada and Japan. (FAS 2011)
The value of avocado imports into the United States has increased substantially over the past two decades, reaching nearly $913 million in 2011. Of that amount, more than $17.2 million was for imported organic avocados. Once again, Mexico supplied most of the avocados imported into the United States in 2011, followed by Chile. (FAS 2011)
According to the ERS (2012), imports accounted for 71.1 percent of the domestic fresh avocado consumed in the United States during 2011, down slightly from 72.4 percent the previous year.
About Avocadoes, California Avocado Commission.
Fruit and Tree Nuts Yearbook: Dataset, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2011.
Global Ag Trade System, Foreign Ag Service, USDA.
The Hass Avocado Promotion and Research Order: Offsetting Price Impacts from Imports with Advertising and Promotion, Working paper No. 04-006.
New Phytosanitary Regulations Allow Higher Imports of Avocados, Amber Waves, ERS, USDA, 2006.
Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts 2011 Summary, National Ag Statistics Service (NASS), USDA, 2012.
Links checked: July 2013