Harvest Avocadosat the Right time!

 

Each week when I visit farmers markets, grocery stores andwholesalers it becomes more apparent that growers need to rethink how and whenwe harvest avocados.

 

It is absolutely essential that we learn not to pick fruit tooearly. Why? Simply put, avocados picked too early, or picked up off the groundcan leave a very bad taste in the mouths of consumers. If we want repeatcustomers; consumers at farmers markets, chefs, wholesalers and grocery stores,we must give them the highest possible quality and consistency.  Until we can do this repeatedly, wehave little chance of reclaiming our markets from the 2 million pounds ofimported avocados that invade our shores from California, Mexico, Chile and NewZealand.

 

In the recent CTAHR publicationAvocado Industry Analysis Part 2 Buyer Preferences Focus, found at:

http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/EI-15.pdf

We can see the consumer'spreference for specific avocado varieties. Production figures can be seen atthe Part 1 supply focus,

http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/EI-12.pdf

 

These papers can help us asgrowers better understand supply an demand and with CTAHR ExtensionEconomist, Dr. Kent Fleming's spreadsheet,

http://www2.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/spreads/avocado$.xls

We can figure our own cost ofproduction for avocados.

 

All of this is very helpful forselling our product but to have repeat customers and customers at restaurantsand groceries, we must still determine the right time to harvest then grade andsize the avocados we deliver or sell at farmers markets.

 

Harvest Indicators:

Established successful avocadogrowers use a variety of methods to determine harvest time.

 

Size doesn't matter:

Many growers simply look at thehanging avocados and figure they are about the right size to harvest. This doesnot work. Some varieties can vary in size by 1 to 3 inches in length andcircumference from year to year depending on weather and soil or plantnutrition and the number of fruits on the tree. An old farmer once told me hewas only enthusiastic about life when he harvested his fruit. We need to curbour enthusiasm until the time is right.

 

Fruit drop:

Fruit falling on the ground is, byitself, not indicative of ripening. There are a number of factors thatcontribute to fruit drop. Often the tree will naturally abort a certain amountof fruit in order to protect itself and provide enough nutrition to theremaining fruit.  In some growinglocations, growers thin avocados and strip leaves so there are just enoughleaves to support each remaining fruit. This is also done for mangos, loquat and a number of other fruit.  It should also be mentioned that weshould not be selling avocados picked from the ground or without the stem endstill attached. Once the stem is off, the fruit might ripen prematurely andinsects tend to find a home. In 1908, our avocados were prevented from beingshipped to the mainland because of a fruit fly larva found in the tip of afruit with no stem. Needless to say this is not a new problem.

 

High Gloss:

Some growers rely on lack of glosson the avocado. This is not always accurate and very much depends on thevariety of avocado. Generally it is a good indication of fruit getting ready toharvest on many common varieties but only when used in conjunction with other signs.

 

Stemming the tide:

Darkening and corkiness of theclosest part of the stem attached to the fruit is another sign that grower'suse.  By itself this is not enoughbut also an indication that the time to harvest is approaching.

 

Finally, some growers will simplypick a few avocados, let them sit a few days and see what happens. Generally,avocados that take a week or more to ripen are not fully developed.  When the fruit is not fully developedneither are the oils and sugars. This is generally why we have a higherpercentage of watery fruit than other growing locations. We pick fruit tooearly!

 

There is no one correct way todetermine when to harvest avocados. Experienced growers rely on a combinationof all these signs. It takes time to learn the habits of a particular fruit andtree. These habits vary from year to year. We just have to remember not to jumpthe gun. For years, some wholesalers in the state have complained that localgrowers do not know when to harvest nor do they grade or size the fruit wedeliver. Lets prove them wrong!

 

Branding:
A program funded by the County of HawaiiDepartment of Research and Development and implemented by CTAHR's Dr CatherineChan-Halbrendt, Silvia Barber and Jyotsna Krishnakumar with help from the WestHawaii Chapter of Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers will survey the effectivenessof branding five varieties of avocados. (Sharwil, Kahaluu, Malama, Linda andlocally grown Hass) Small stickers provided to growers with these varietieswill say Hawaiian Grown Avocado with the variety name. Education and publicityto inform the public on the program will take place. Locally grown avocadoswith the stickers should be top quality. We hope this will help to reclaim someof our markets from the imports but only when we learn to harvest at the righttime!

 

For more information on thebranding program, contact Ken Love, kenlove@kona.net