San Diego County avocado industry disappearing

Water rates to blame

SAN DIEGO - Avocados, one of San Diego County's top crops, are disappearing, and 10News has confirmed avocado trees are being ripped out at an increasing rate and replaced with other crops.

It's not quite harvest time on Phil Pace's 15-acre property in Escondido. However, when the avocados do get picked, there won't be many of them.

Some blame it on the cost of growing a business.

"The numbers didn't add up. I wanted to make a business decision," said Pace.
 
Pace, the owner of the Phil's BBQ restaurants, bought the land more than a year ago. He said 900 plants were producing more than $90,000 worth of avocado every year.

Pace said his next decision was an easy one -- he ripped out 200 of the trees.

In the past year, Pace's water bill to water the avocados is more than $30,000.

In the past year and a half, he said two water hikes -- a 30 percent jump, followed by a 10 percent hike -- have made the avocado crop too costly.

He replaced the trees he took out with a vineyard, which doesn't bring in as much money, but requires far less water.

"I'm saving approximately $1,000 a month right now," said Pace.

Pace is not the only one making this decision. According to the San Diego County Farm Bureau, in a five-year span, the avocado acreage in the county went from 26,000 acres in 2007 to 17,673 acres.

As of 2010, the county produced 40 percent of the state's avocado crop.

"In San Diego County, I think the avocado is going to be extinct because of the cost of water," said Pace.

Ultimately, the consumers could be paying the price.  

"When you cut supply, Mexico is going to be our only reach for avocados. They're probably going to raise their prices," said Pace.

Pace won't need to know much about avocado prices. He'll be replacing all the trees with vineyards, wherever the terrain allows it.

The wine will land in his restaurants.

For years, avocado farmers stayed afloat thanks to a 20 percent agricultural discount from the Metropolitan Water District.

That discount was dropped in 2009, however.

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