San Diego County's record heat may prove devastating to avocado crop

Posted at 4:48 PM, Jul 11, 2018

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV) - The record temperatures across San Diego County last week may prove to have a devastating impact on next year's avocado crop.

10News went to Escondido to meet with Burnet Wohlford, an avocado grower and manager for other farms.  He showed anchor Jim Patton the results of that one day of extreme heat. 

"Here's a piece that was fully exposed and you can tell, the fruit's burned," said Wohlford, as he pulled apart dry, wrinkled leaves on one avocado tree to expose the damaged fruit inside. "It's all mushy, the branch is burned, and this is all going to fall off." 

Wohlford said the coming weeks would tell just how severely next year's avocado crop has been damaged. This, amid a season that was going very well.

"We had nice mild temperatures," says Wohlford, "we had a great bloom, great fruit set. I mean who would have expected 114 degrees?"

Native to the rainforest, avocado trees are very vulnerable to extreme temperatures, Wohlford explained. The fruit becomes even more at risk when the protective leaves are damaged.

"So, when all these leaves fall off it leaves all the fruit here, and it gets burned and falls off," said Wohlford.

The head of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, Eric Larson, says the heat wave is just latest of a number challenges for local farmers, who have been struggling for years to find enough labor, pay for expensive water and compete with imported product. 

"For local consumers," said Larson, "I think their concerns should be, how healthy are the farmers going to be. Sixteen, seventeen years ago we had 35,000 acres of avocados in San Diego County. We're pushing 17 now." 

For 2018, Wohlford says he's okay. He had his crops picked early, ahead of the heat. But the damage may be done for next year. 

"It's getting harder and harder to be a farmer anymore," Wohlford says, "The labor, the regulations, the pests, our hands are more and more tied. It's getting harder."