Labor Strikes and Drought Threaten Our Avocado Supply

Avocado fans know that the guac costs extra, but it may soon cost a whole lot extra. A global avocado shortage has sent the fruit’s prices soaring to two and three times what they were a year ago.

A grower’s strike in Mexico is primarily responsible for the shortage. Workers there temporarily stopped picking the crop to protest what they see as unfair prices being paid for the commodity, bringing U.S. weekly imports to the lowest numbers in five years.

As much as one third of the world’s avocados are grown in Mexico, and roughly 60 percent of the avocados consumed in the United States are imported from south of the border. Mexico’s avocado boom began in the 1990s when NAFTA eased trade restrictions on the fruit. Avocados began pouring over the border, and Americans fell in love.

Today 72 percent of Mexico’s avocado plantations are located in the Mexican state of Michohoacán, and more than 80 percent of the avocados grown there are destined for the United States. Avocado farming has become such a lucrative venture that, in many parts of the state, the avocado industry has become intermingled with the drug trade. Drug lords are widely known to use avocado plantations to launder their money, and plantations not run by the cartel are in danger of extortion.

The good news? Several industry organizations are reporting that this particular strike has ended, so avocado prices may soon stabilize, but we shouldn’t get too complacent with cheap avocados. This most recent strike is only one of several events in recent history to send avocado prices through the roof. A similar strike in July 2015 at the Association of Michoacá Avocado Producers and Packers sent prices soaring. An avocado shortage in 2008 was blamed on abnormally hot weather early in the growing season.

“We’re monitoring the situation closely.”

– Chipotle Representative

The avocado shortage of 2014 highlighted another variable that threatens the health of our avocado supply: drought. That particular shortage was caused by the chronic dry conditions that still plague California, where most domestic avocados are grown. Drought conditions in that state have affected this year’s crop, as well. That means California’s crop can’t absorb some of burden of the shortage from Mexico as it could in years with normal rainfall.

Avocados are one crop particularly impacted by water shortages, requiring as much as 141 gallons of water per pound to produce. Compare that to other favorite taco trimmings: tomatoes require 26 gallons per pound, and lettuce requires 28 gallons of water per pound to grow.

These shortages have become all the more painful as demand for the fleshy fruit continues to rise. In 1999, Americans ate a mere 1.1 pounds of avocado per capita. In 2014, each of us ate 5.8 pounds on average. The record for the highest number of avocados shipped in a single week was set in 2016, with a total of 2.5 million cartons shipped during the fourth week of the year.

Restaurateurs and retailers are doing their best to cope with the sudden spike in prices. Most are absorbing the extra cost as long as they can to prevent having to raise their prices or change their menus, hoping the high costs will soon ease. When asked if there is any risk the chain might run short on guacamole, a representative from Chipotle Mexican Grill reassured us that they are, “monitoring the situation closely.”

What to do if your guacamole cravings become too much but your local grocer has run out of avocados? Consider one of the several avocado-free guacamole recipes floating around the internet that involve other green produce like edamame, peas, and asparagus. Or you could just hold out for the next shipment of avocados to arrive.

Tanner West
Tanner West

A dedicated festival-goer, Tanner West has seen more bands perform live in the middle of hay fields and city parks than most people have probably heard of. Raised on beans and taters, he recently renovated a home and three vintage sheds in the back woods of East Tennessee that serves as a quiet retreat for reading and ready base for hiking and camping trips. Despite being able to craft 500-word descriptions of restaurant equipment, Tanner is a man of few words who described the best meal he ever ate in one word: Coffee.

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