So, you've found an avocado grove that you would like to purchase.  What should you do next?

First, talk to the people who have been working on the grove.
Did it have a professional grove manager?  How are they keeping up with watering, pruning, fertilizing, etc? 

Did the seller do most of the work him/herself or was it hired out? 

Are there production records or Profit & Loss statements for the grove? If possible, look at least 5 years back, because there are always yearly swings.  Avocados, in particular, try to be "alternate bearing"... meaning that they set a heavy crop one year and a light crop the next year.  The longer view into the past you can see, the better idea you will have of what the trees have been doing. 

Next, walk the grove.

You will want an actual tree count.  You will want to get an idea of the current condition of the grove.   Are the trees dry or showing tip burn?  Are they large or small?  Stumped?  Girdled?  Pruned? Is there any fruit on them now?  Or, if off season, are there blooms?  What is the overall terrain of the property?  Are there pockets that might be freeze prone?  What does the soil look like?  Are there pockets of sand, clay or granite?  How does the irrigation system look?  What sprinkler pattern is being used?  Are there pressure regulators so that the upper trees on a slope get as much water as the lower trees? 

You will want to find out what size water meter is on the property, and the price of the water from the water district.  If there is a well and, if so, how deep is it, what is the water quality like, and how many gallons per minute does it pump?
So, what makes a property good from the potential buyer's point of view?

Well, it's going to be a combination of evaluating what's there and balancing that with what kind of improvements you can make.   If you are looking for a formulaic answer to questions like "How much money will I make growing avocados?"...just know that  it's not likely to be a cut and dry answer.   Farmers the world over have cussed the weather, the rules of supply and demand, the vagrancies of the market and consumers, etc. 

You'll want to have an idea of both the condition of the trees and the improvements that you will make to boost your production.  

Nearly every avocado orchard that  I've seen for sale has not gotten enough water.  It seems that the first thing somebody does when production is sparse is to cut back on the biggest expense... the water.   Since avocados have such a high water content, this move pretty much guarantees the start of a downward spiral for the grove.   If owners know that plans are in the works for selling the grove, then they naturally decide to cut back on the biggest expense that they incur.   This is doubly compounded by the fact that avos watered in the summer and fall aren't harvested until springtime and beyond, so the water bills and other assorted costs represent an unrecoverable loss to the seller who sells his farm before harvest time. 

However, certainly the trees will start to suffer early on from the drought condition that they are experiencing.   First they may drop bloom or fruit.  The fruit they have won't achieve a large size.   Then, they will start to lose leaves, eventually losing whole branches.   Sooner or later, the tree will die off or severely die back.   Sometimes these dry skeletons of trees can be revived from the brink of death by turning on the irrigation, but, sometimes they are too far gone and slot that they occupy will need to be replanted.  

Now, if a substantial majority of the trees on the grove are dead but still standing, this will entail vigorous use of a chainsaw!  The old grove will need to be thinned down and removed, so that new trees can be planted.   I recently talked with a grove manager who does tree removal (to the dirt), for about $50 per tree.   They'll cut it into firewood sized bits and stack it for your removal.   This can be a job, too, because some of the groves were planted on steeper (good draining) ground and getting that wood out of there is a chore that involves a lot of hiking or getting the bin carrier in to fill bins with wood. 

Of course, like any real estate, there is an intrinsic value to bare land before it's been developed, planted, improved, etc.   The catch word to real estate value is location, location, location... so any farm that you are considering should also be run through that overlay.  How big is it?  How accessable is it?  Are the utilities in place or nearby?  What's the terrain like?  What's the zoning?  What's the current mix of housing, ag, open space, commercial, etc?  Is it close to a developing area?  Being too close might just price you out of the market, but, on the other hand, there might be a huge upside potential if the houses are lapping at the property boundaries.  

One down side to being in the path of progress, though, is you might end up being the sole ag holdout in a neighbhorhood of houses.   This calls to mind what happened to many of the dairies in the Norco/Ontario area... the old tracts of land that had been home to dairy cows for generations suddenly were bought up in the housing frenzy of 2005 and up sprung upteen McMansion housing tracts instead.   The new housing resident's didn't take kindly to the aroma of dairy cow manure wafting their way daily.  The farmers  often lose this battle... farming acreage is down statewide year after year.   This saga, of course, has repeated itself many times in many ways throughout the development of California.  Orange County with no orange trees, etc.  So, if farming is your long term plan, you might want to keep an eye on the future of your little area.  Or, part of your overall plan might be to "land bank" your farm knowing that someday, you or children will reap the benefits of clever foresight. 

There's a big push from other nations right now who are coming in and buying America's farmland.  The midwest has seen a huge influx of internationalists who want to buy wheat farms, dairy land, etc.   I think this trend will continue... everybody has to eat, and the USA has some of the most productive farmland in the world.  China's coming in with all their newfound money and Japan has been investing in USA farms for decades.  

So, I say: Invest in land, NOW!!!

California doesn't have such huge, sprawling acreage like the midwest does, but we have the largest variety of crops in any state.   Most of our farms are family farms, with avocados being no exception.  There are over 6000 avocado growers in California.  

Jill Pettigrew,  760/468-1144
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Jill Pettigrew, REALTOR
The Jacques Company,
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