(Jan. 31) OXNARD, Calif. — It’s up to California avocado growers to become more involved in the market if they are to prosper while avocado volume continues to climb beyond the 1 billion pounds that hit the U.S. market in 2006, a California Avocado Commission official said during the group’s annual meeting.

Mark Affleck, president and chief executive officer of the commission, Irvine, abandoned the commission’s usual meeting format and replaced the presentations and speeches with a two-hour question-and-answer session Jan. 30 in Oxnard and (one planned for) Feb. 1 in Temecula.

“We Need You” was the theme of the gatherings where Affleck was blunt with growers: “2006 was not a good year,” he said.

“Some people did O.K., but we have to look at it from an industry perspective, and there were disappointments across the board,” Affleck said.

However, years like 2006 are “character builders” and can create opportunities, he said. But growers must take some responsibility.

“If you don’t get intimately involved, the business won’t make it,” he said.

With a possible 2 billion pounds of avocados in the U.S. within six years, “You must now know everything about the market,” he told growers.

The volume increase is resulting largely because of the growing presence of Chile and Mexico in the U.S. avocado market, and Affleck said growers must stay on top of marketing conditions and be aware of what those countries are doing.

Growers expressed frustration that, despite the greater volume of avocados last year, retailers were selling the product for about the same as in previous years, yet grower returns were down.

A pessimistic state of mind that seemed to permeate an industry that feared an avocado glut may have affected those returns.

“What was lacking was confidence and cohesion in the marketing system,” Affleck said.

“What we need is strength in the selling system,” he added, and more control over how and when the fruit from all sources enters the market.

This year, California’s crop will be smaller than last year’s because volume was down to begin with, and because 25% to 30% was estimated to have been lost in a January cold snap. But that doesn’t mean that overall volume in the U.S. will be lower, Affleck said. Mexico and Chile will step in to fill the void.

Affleck wasn’t worried that Mexico would flood the market with avocados.

“The Mexicans have shown extreme discipline in terms of volume, flow, price and stability,” he said.

If there is a large supply of California fruit already in the pipeline, Jose Luis Obregon, the commission’s managing director of information technology, said, “(Mexico) won’t come in.”

But Affleck did not have that same confidence in Chilean exporters.

“There’s concern about the way Chilean fruit comes into the market,” he said. “Is it based on market fundamentals and a designed strategy, or is it based on a shipping schedule?”