The Struggle Is Real For Florida Avocados

Aug 19, 2015
Originally published on August 19, 2015 12:39 pm

Dr. Edward “Gilly” Evans does not hide his avocado bias.

“I mean, if you’re really an avocado eater then a ‘green-skin’ avocado is the way to go,” says the University of Florida agricultural economist.

America may have fallen in love with avocado, but it has not fallen for Florida’s avocado just yet. The Sunshine State specializes in what’s called the green-skin avocado. It comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but generally speaking, green-skins are bigger, a brighter green and have smoother skin than the Hass variety of avocado.

California primarily grows the Hass avocado. It’s smaller, darker, rough-skinned and currently owns about 95-percent of the avocado market, according to Evans.

Below, Evans explains the ups and downs and the complicated market of Florida green-skin avocados.

HASS VS. GREEN SKIN

“[Green-skins] have some advantages and some disadvantages at the retail level,” Evans explains. “One of the advantages that the Hass is that you know exactly when it’s ripe.”

The Hass changes to a blackish color, whereas it’s a little tricky to tell with a green-skin. Its skin is always green.

“And another thing the Hass avocado has is that it has a longer shelf-life than the green-skin avocado has,” Evans says. That gives the Hass a pretty big advantage, considering they need to get from a tree to a truck to a store to a plate.

Green-skins tend to have less fat and oil. That makes them healthier by some standards but less delicious by others.

However, Evans says “when you want a real tasty avocado you got to eat a green-skin avocado. You know, a green-skin avocado is far more flavorful than the Hass avocado.”

WHO WANTS FLORIDA AVOCADOS?

Even though Florida’s avocados don’t dominate the national market, the state grows about $24 million worth of avocados a year and puts 1,000 people to work doing so, according to Evans.

“The green skin avocado is what we consider a niche market,” Evans says. “People from the Caribbean and Central America, they grow up knowing green-skin avocados... So you have die-hard consumers of green-skin avocados. A lot of these consumers are on the eastern side: New Jersey, New York. And so a lot of the avocados that we produce in Florida are shipped out of state.”

South Florida’s biggest avocado grower, Brooks Tropicals, is trying to push outside of the green-skin's niche market by branding some of its avocados as SlimCados.”

“They have up to half the fat and a third fewer calories than the leading California avocado,” the company’s website claims. “Generally pear-shaped with smooth or bumpy green skin, the SlimCado varies in shape and in size from 3 to 13 inches long and up to 5 inches wide.

MORE "GREEN" (AS IN, MONEY)

Over the last few years, about 8 percent of Florida's avocado trees have been hit by laurel wilt, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture. The disease is caused by a fungus carried in the mouth of the invasive redbay ambrosia beetle.

“Once [the beetle] bores through the trunk of the tree it inoculates the tree with the fungus,” says Evans. “Because the tree recognizes that there’s a foreign body it becomes hypersensitive and... blocks those water conducting tubes inside of it. So in trying to prevent the disease from spreading it’s actually the tree that kills itself.”

Evans wanted to see how much a drop in Florida’s avocado supply would affect the price of green-skin avocados in the United States. Not as much as you might think, he found. The Dominican Republic, another major producer of green-skin avocados, could simply ship more to the U.S. and make up for the drop in supply.

But last March, the amazingly destructive Mediterranean fruit fly was found in the D.R. and the country’s avocados were no longer allowed into the United States.

Evans hasn’t had a chance to rerun his study, but he says he’s now seeing prices go up for an avocado that’s already harder to sell.

“So you have people who might have been converted to a green-skin avocado, and if the price of green-skin avocados start rising too much, given the price for the Hass avocado... You could get people switching from green-skin to Hass avocado,” Evans says.

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