29 Apr Out in the Field with Andrew Gabryszak
A field manager and cultural advisor for the groves at West Pak Avocado Andrew Gabryszak operates mainly in San Diego and Riverside counties in sunny Southern California. He works with 125 to 135 growers in the region with ranches ranging in size from 5 to 500 acres. However, when it comes to fruit quality in the golden state, he knows that the size of the grove doesn’t matter as much as the level of care and dedication to ranching.
“The smallest grower is just as important as a 125-acre grower that wants to grow and produce California avocados,” says Andrew. “With innovation and new technologies, new fertilizers, and programs, they are doing everything that they can to produce the best avocados in the world.”
As West Pak’s Southern Field Manager, Andrew provides cultural advice and acts as a line of communication between the growers and the corporate offices. He also keeps growers informed about avocado market intelligence as well as any local developments or industry opportunities.
“They want to know what’s happening with the rest of the state, how they’re shaping up, and what the market looks like overall,” mentions Andrew. “Good communication out in the field is essential for a symbiotic relationship between the company and the growers. If the market is oversupplied, for example, the growers need to know about it.”
He adds that he works closely with owners or grove managers to monitor their crops and develop a marketing plan that takes them into the following year. It’s this relationship with growers that helps maintain the flow of quality California avocados coming in to feed the demand for the home-grown fruit.
Servicing the Varied Regions
As a cultural advisor, this 29-year field veteran is savvy to the fact that groves vary significantly from one area to the next. “Rancho California is extremely different from Pauma Valley, which is, in turn, is totally different from Carpinteria,” he points out. “The climate in Carpinteria is coastal versus the almost dessert-like qualities of other regions. The soil is also different from one area to another, even issues with pests. So, what works in terms of irrigation, fertilization, even pest control for one region may not work for another.”
The Pick & Pickiness
Four main things affect whether or not a pick happens: the size of the fruit on the trees, price, the health of the trees, and weather. As this seasoned field professional knows, each avocado tree produces between 100 to 200 pieces of fruit per year, with most harvested at once, or through a series of select picks. For the latter, Andrew makes sure that only larger fruit is harvested, leaving smaller avocados to size up for harvest later in the season. By pulling the larger fruit off of the trees early on, it gives the trees a chance to concentrate on the smaller growth, allocating the needed space and vital nutrients to grow the avocados to the most marketable sizes.
“I do guide and make suggestions, but it is ultimately up to the growers as to when they want to pick. Some have a set date, and others want their pick to start and end on certain dates, while other decisions are price-based. In some cases, growers have trees that only hold their fruit for so long, so sometimes it’s my job to remind them to pick,” declares Andrew.
As part of his responsibilities, Andrew supervises the harvest to ensure a quality pick and that everybody involved is following West Pak’s strict food safety protocol. The process typically involves delivering empties and arranging pickups with what this field pro calls the finest trucking team in the industry. The foundation of a successful harvest starts with scheduling knowledgeable harvesters and walking the grove with them to identify the property line. From there it’s about overseeing the operation to make sure that only the designated fruit is harvested and is done with both safety and fruit quality in mind.
“Today, for example, I am harvesting in nine or ten ranches and am always searching for where the crew goes next. It takes a lot of good communication with the grove managers and contractors to produce a good pick. Many of these teams have been working together for a long time, and the reason is because of their work ethic. They do a great job, are reliable, and there is really good communication in place.”
For California growers, the future looks bright. Not just with a good season in our midst, but also the long term. Inquiring where Andrew sees the state of the California avocado, he responds, “There are a lot of changes happening at West Pak and the changes are for the good. With all of the doom and gloom with society today, I find solace in knowing that West Pak is committed to their growers, especially to their growers in California, and is always moving in the right direction to keep California strong.”
The Greatness of the Outdoors
When asked his favorite part of his job, Andrew is quick to respond, “I have met a lot of great and interesting people in my days at West Pak, and I absolutely love being out in the field. About 80 percent of my time is in the field organizing or watching a harvest crew or walking groves checking irrigation. I enjoy all aspects of the outdoors, from the mountains to the desert and the open coastline. If there is no concrete under my feet, there’s a good chance there’s a smile on my face!”
“Just picture yourself sitting on the top of a mountain and watching the sunrise – Its 60 degrees and everything is green. How are you upset with that view? That is my office today – sitting on a mountaintop enjoying the view!”
“There’s also nothing like when you see the grove respond to something that you’re doing. It’s amazing to watch and the wonder of it all. I also work with growers that are excited about growing trees, growing fruit, and growing what they bring to the table. They bring a lot of heart into it, and those are good people to be around. I have learned a lot about life in an avocado grove.”