When my editor suggested I write a piece on 2022 being the year of the avocado, I was perplexed. Everything online points to this not being avocado’s year. War, climate change, and supply chain disruptions have led to an avocado shortage in the U.S. And in February, the USDA temporarily banned imports of Mexican avocados after one of their plant safety inspectors received voicemail threats.
Meanwhile, Australia has an avocado surplus. Extra fruit rots by the truckload as farmers beg consumers to eat more avocados.
In Tampa Bay, it’s a different story. We talked to local experts, including the City of Gulfport Horticulturist Toffer Ross, Gulfport Food Forest Founder Crea Egan, and Jené VanButsel, of Jene’s Tropicals, about the status of avocado trees in Tampa Bay.
They all said it’s been mostly a good year for avocados in Tampa Bay, especially in South Pinellas. Egan said her trees are doing well, and that she’s received positive reports from other local growers.
Ross said that, due to the absence of a major frost in recent years, trees in residential neighborhoods are bearing fruit earlier than expected.
“We haven’t had a really good frost in a while,” Ross said. “That means that throughout the course of four or five plus years, avocado trees that haven’t been able to bear any fruit or keep their flowers on to bear fruit have gone on to grow and bear fruit. So we’re seeing a lot more trees, particularly at the residential level, actually fruit bearing rather than being forced to spend a couple of years recovering from whatever the frost has done.”
Though they haven’t had to deal with the cold, local avocado trees have had to deal with extra rain this year. This can be a good or a bad thing, Ross said, depending upon the age and the variety of the avocado.
“It’s been so wet that some of the fruit has been unable to handle all the moisture and, in some cases, it’s caused the fruit to rot while it’s on the tree,” Ross said. “In other cases, it’s caused the fruit to be extra large and extra delicious….It’s been good on young trees, but too much can be hard on their ability to fight fungus.”
“We’ve had a bumper crop this year,” VanButsel told The Gabber. “We sell a lot of trees, and we have good reports from our customers. Really, everything’s done well — the Super Hot, Daze. We’ve had a lot of fruit, and it’s fun because they’re all different shapes and sizes.”
As far as the extra water goes, VanButsel said avocado trees “don’t like wet feet.”
This makes a different in lower areas, like on the northeast side of Gulfport.
“We have these weird little micro climates,” Ross told The Gabber.
Within Tampa Bay, some areas are better for growing avocados than others. Seemingly insignificant factors like the amount of heat coming off a home and the direction the tree is facing, can all make a difference.
So, is 2022 the year of the avocado? I hope so, but I don’t want to jinx it.
Next up: The care and feeding of avocados.