Chipotle set off an outcry of speculation and anxiety when, in its yearly financial report, the chain voiced concern about their future avocado supply. "Increasing weather volatility or other long-term changes in global weather patterns…could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients," Chipotle stated in the report. "In the event of cost increases…we may choose to temporarily suspend serving menu items, such as guacamole." Does this portend an avocado shortage?
Not just yet. Avocado numbers in California* are predicted to be down this year — 300 million compared to 500 million last year — but that this is likely due to the fact that avocado trees naturally rest every other year. The current drought in Califronia concerns The California Avocado Commission, but it did a lot more damage to beef prices, which was the only ingredient Chipotle specifically mentioned as being effected by the drought. The chief effect of the drought on avocados, according to the Commission, will be that farmers finish harvesting their avocados a few months sooner than usual in order to preserve water.
"They have every reason to be concerned about their products being impacted by climate change in the future," says Rosamond Naylor, professor of environmental earth system science at Stanford University. Although the current drought in California is within the bounds of natural variability, she says that all areas in the world are definitely warming up. In addition to higher temperatures, Naylor says this warming means uncertain precipitation patterns and low soil moisture are likely in our future.
These kinds of changes could be a problem for avocado growers. Research has already shown that warm temperatures and drought can cause avocado trees to produce fewer and smaller fruits. Naylor says that avocados will likely be fine in the short-run because perennial crops usually get priority when it comes to water but, regardless, she hopes that this scare can motivate political action to address climate change.
*Previously this read "worldwide," but the numbers refer to California avocados only.