Avocado Orchards Burn in Thomas Fire but Harvest Still Strong

Crop Still Expected to Be Bigger Than Last Year

Thomas Fire burning in the foothills as seen from State Route 192 (Dec. 10, 2017)
Photo Credit: Paul Wellman
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The bad news is that roughly 1,000 acres of avocados, by preliminary estimates, totaling 25 million pounds burned in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in the Thomas Fire, according to South Coast farmer Rick Shade, who chairs the California Avocado Commission. The good news is California’s overall, 2018 avocado crop is still expected to be bigger than 2017’s.

Specific tallies of the impacts to agriculture are not yet available, according to multiple industry experts. What is known is that the avocado crop suffered most severely, while citrus and cut-flower industries felt some pain.

In addition to scars from the wildfire, the high Santa Ana winds blew the unripe fruit ​right off the trees. “The fire was pushed by these strong winds, which in itself will do damage to the crop,” said avocado wholesaler Wayne Brydon. “We always get knocked down a little bit, but these were two big blows.”

This year’s avocado harvest was about half the size of 2016’s harvest in part because of California’s seven-year drought. Market prices throughout the state and country have increased.

The damage inflicted by the Thomas Fire “is more localized and more severe,” Shade explained. In addition, he said, the fire hurt some avocado nurseries.

Glenna Horton, who has 50 acres of avocado trees near Foothill Road in Carpinteria, just barely dodged Thomas’s wrath. “My garden still looks green, but the hills behind it are just black,” she said, adding, “Avocado trees are very tough. It’s hard to burn them in the first place.” She does not expect to lose any of next year’s crop. “That is a miracle,” she said.

Horton said her next-door neighbors, the Persoons, were “wonderful” because they spent a lot of time watering down the orchards. But the Persoons attributed their good fortune to the firefighters who made a “major firebreak behind our avocado orchard all the way down to the Franklin Creek … What an amazing job all those [firefighters] are doing."

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