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As avocado crops face serious threat, team of scientists trying to save orchards

Posted at 4:17 PM, Jan 14, 2021

Holy guacamole! Mexico City Lounge uses a lot of avocados.

“Avocados are like Mexican butter,” manager David Muniz said. “It goes on everything.”

Prior to the pandemic, the third-generation family restaurant went through 14 cases of avocados a week. Now, even during the COVID-19 crisis, the restaurant still uses eight cases of avocados every seven days.

“Avocados are key to Mexican food,” Muniz said.

While these little green fruits do add flavor, color and texture to dishes, they could be 86’d from Mexico City Lounge’s menu, but not by choice.

“The biggest consequence is that the industry will be gone,” Patricia Manosalva said of the avocado industry.

Manosalva is an assistant professor of microbiology and the director of the Avocado Rootstock Brreding Program at the University of California, Riverside.

She says America is experiencing an avocado crisis.

“There is a little pest which is threatening the avocado production,” Manosalva said.

Those little pests are non-native beetles carrying a fungus, and they’re creating big problems for avocado orchards across the United States and internationally.

“The problem is that it is going to be here, it’s just a matter of time,” Manosalva said.

This fungus has already destroyed avocado crops in Florida and Texas, and Manosalva says it’s now spreading to America’s biggest producer of avocados: California.

“When the disease and symptoms start showing up, the tree can die in three weeks or a month if nothing is done,” she said.

After being awarded a grant by the USDA, Manosalva is now leading a team of scientists from around the world to take on this avocado issue.

While stressors like increased salinity brought on by drought are adding to the problem, industry workers like Muinz hope these scientists can find a solution and ultimately keep supplying the world with avocados.

“Science is great,” he said. “If they can figure it out and keep the avocado plant in business booming; it’s good for my business, too.”