U.S. ag secretary tours California avocado grove, discusses industry challenges
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue recently toured a California avocado grove and had a "very productive meeting" with industry representatives, according to the California Avocado Commission (CAC).
Perdue was accompanied around the Rancho Guejito Avocado Farm in Escondido by CAC chairman John Lamb, president Tom Bellamore and other representatives of the Commission. The grove tour was conducted by grower Al Stehly.
“On behalf of California avocado growers, I’d like to thank Secretary Perdue for the time and interest he expressed about our industry during his visit,” said Lamb.
“We had a very productive meeting with the Secretary, who seemed very interested in helping with labor, water and other issues facing California growers.”
Commission representatives informed the Secretary about California avocado industry modernization in progress, including high-density plantings, managed tree height, salt-tolerant varieties and improved water efficiency.
“We expressed to Secretary Perdue the significant challenges growers are having with limited labor availability and let him know that the situation is getting worse with the aging of existing workers and enforcement concerns,” said Bellamore.
“California avocado harvest crews are well-compensated, averaging $18 per hour or greater piece rate, but with agriculture labor availability approaching crisis levels the industry needs a flexible guest worker program that allows the existing workforce to remain and one that provides access to new workers.”
Water availability, quality and pricing remain significant concerns for California avocado farmers. Commission representatives emphasized the importance of increased statewide water storage capacity and of easing of Endangered Species Act restrictions to allow greater State Water Project deliveries.
The Commission also covered trade issues with Secretary Perdue, such as the tremendous increase in avocado volumes coming from imports.
Export opportunities were discussed, including the challenges in gaining access to some foreign markets. Bellamore called upon the Secretary to expedite access to China for California avocados.
The Secretary also gained a hands-on appreciation of the skill it takes to harvest avocados, using a picking pole to cut an avocado from a tree. After the California avocado grove tour the Secretary was available for media questions from major networks and local San Diego press.
Rancho Guejito is the only remaining undivided Spanish land grant in California. Avocados have been grown on the property since 2010.