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State-of-art orchard planted at Cal Poly

Cal Poly's College of Agriculture and Mission Produce are planting a new 50-acre avocado orchard designed to be a profitable commercial operation as well as a showcase and field classroom for the latest orchard management techniques.

Mission Produce, a Southern California avocado and avocado products company with annual sales of more than $100 million, will plant the orchard and install state-of-the-art irrigation and orchard-care systems on 50 acres of Cal Poly land at San Luis Obispo, irrigated with Cal Poly water.

Mission produce will also provide orchard management and harvesting crews. The company will make a donation to Cal Poly's College of Agriculture at the end of each harvest based on proceeds from sale of the avocados.

College of Agriculture Associate Dean Mark Shelton said the new orchard will serve as a lab site and field classroom for Cal Poly students, and the commercial operation there will offer internships for students as well. The college also anticipates offering short courses and seminars for Central Coast avocado growers.

“It will be a showcase orchard using the latest and best management practices, irrigation, design and frost-protection equipment, and it also will be a first-class lab for our students,” Shelton said.

The College of Agriculture has been working on the partnership for the past year with Mission Produce CEO Steve Barnard, a Cal Poly College of Agriculture alumnus.

Mission Produce will invest some $350,000 in planting and equipping the orchard, said Barnard, and will fund its $75,000 annual operation costs.

“It's a good investment for both Cal Poly and Mission Produce,” Barnard said. U.S. avocado consumption is growing while the nation's avocado-growing regions are limited, which should ensure a solid market for the Cal Poly avocados, he said. “This should give the partnership a good return on its investment.”

Cal Poly already has about 17 scattered acres planted with avocado orchards. But the new Mission Produce orchard will offer students the chance to learn first-hand about large-scale commercial avocado operation and vertically integrated avocado marketing practices, something Cal Poly can't do now.

“We don't have the resources from the state to put in a commercial-scale operation,” Shelton said. “That's why private partnerships with industry like this are very important.”

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