The complexities of avocado supply and demand

By Jen Scoular

After four years in the avocado industry I realised I would understand growers much better if I was one myself. I had a patch of land within about two hectares that was vacant, but now boosts 80 avocado trees. It’s not an ideal site, I do have the excuse of being able to say we are too high, too wet, too cold and too windy to win best grower awards but having my own avocados to harvest is pretty exciting, and a wonderful addition to an often empty larder by the time Sunday evening comes around.

I remain perplexed though, about the answer to many questions our growers, and I’m sure growers of many crops face. How do I nurture my trees, soil and fruit to optimise my production and return this year and in the years to come.

Avocados are different to many crops in that we harvest over a five month period for export markets but over 12 months for the New Zealand market.  At the Avocado Industry Day at Parliament Buildings in December, hosted by Minister O’Connor, I tried to explain to our guests why the price of avocados increases in our “off-season” when supply volumes are much lower, outside the export season.

Avocados cannot be stored for long lengths of time, they must be consumer within about 35 days of harvest. Right now I have two crops on my tree. One crop flowered and became fruitlets in November 2018 and could have been harvested from August 2019 but may stay on the tree until April 2020. The other crop flowered and became fruitlets a year later in November 2019, to be harvested from August 2020 through to April 2021. My tree is hanging baby avocados and adult avocados at the same time.

But with New Zealand weather, the avocados that are available to be harvested in August one year may, with a couple of storms, a drought or just age, have fallen from the tree and become unsaleable.

If there was a bunch of three avocados available to harvest in August, but the grower chose to hold those avocados until April to meet consumer demand, only one of that avocado family might still be left on the tree. So, the return the grower will need for that avocado is much higher, as the grower needs compensation for the loss of the brother and sister of that avocado.

We don’t import avocados – the protocols in place for biosecurity reasons are hard for Australia, the only country with market access to meet, so all avocados sold in New Zealand are grown in New Zealand, and growers do work hard to supply to us all year.

We also know that if the tree is holding two crops, it’s a bit like when we are carrying ten kilos too much. The same body has to carry twice as much weight. It has to work harder. Avocado trees are therefore under more stress. Leaves need to produce enough carbohydrates for both crops as well as drive the tree’s root and leaf growth for next season’s crop. The nutrition and water needs are greater because there are two crops.

But from a market perspective we need growers to hold some fruit on the trees. Our exporters seek to supply overseas consumers from August through to February. Our New Zealand marketers seek to supply New Zealanders 12 months a year.

Market returns are volatile, based on supply and demand, and it’s difficult to accurately predict whether an export market is going to return better in August than in January. We obviously didn’t anticipate fires in Australia which has significantly decreased Australian domestic supply since Christmas, resulting in a shortage of supply and higher returns post Christmas for NZ growers supplying into Australia.

Hence, I remain perplexed and challenged by the complexity of the supply and demand of our wonderful product. But enjoy the fact that we manage that challenge to ensure consumer demand is met and you as a consumer are able to enjoy wonderful NZ avocados (mostly) year round.

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