In 1925, Florence and Charles Henry planted avocado trees on a recently-purchased eighty acre parcel in Escondido, California. The grove has been in continuous production ever since. Back in 1925, the word “sustainable” had a more narrow meaning than it does today, but much of the farming practices that were used then would be described as sustainable today. The grove was adjacent to their farm house, so naturally the Henry family wanted to sustain both the land and environment for future generations of the family.
They dug a well by hand, installed a windmill to pump the water to a reservoir they built, then they developed gravity flow irrigation lines to the rows of newly planted trees. They recycled wood and leaves from the trees to create mulch, kept bee hives on the grove to pollinate the trees, and used natural fertilizer. Today, technology has replaced much of the hand labor but the principles of caring for the land, environment, and people remain the same. Henry’s recommended farming practices combine years of experience with modern technology to ensure water, fertilizer, and other inputs produce superior quality fruit coupled with a healthy and sustainable environment and community.
Grove health is essential to sustainable farming practices. Everything from grove planning, to solar power, to insect population conservation impacts overall farm management.
When groves are planted, many elements go into consideration. The goal is to use less to grow more, and thus the spacing of trees, size of tree canopies, pruning and harvesting times are all carefully considered to result in the highest quality fruit, with the least amount of inputs. The avocados benefit the surrounding ecosystems in a number of ways including erosion control, fire breaks, open space, carbon sequestration, and air quality. Although avocados are among the fruits and vegetables that require little pesticide application, farms use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) including beneficial insects to combat pests and disease.
Each year one acre of avocado trees absorb up to 260 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2)… the amount produced by 200 cars in one year.
Avocado tree roots stabilize the soil, which prevents erosion and the possibility of flooding.
All avocado tree waste is recycled into mulch to enrich the soil.
Avocado trees are a very efficient crop in carbon sequestration. Avocado farming helps reduce levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Avocado trees sequester carbon when they convert carbon dioxide into wood and roots, and as they grow they produce liquid carbohydrates which flow through their roots and create stable forms of carbon. This carbon can stay locked underground for centuries, helps the plants grow, and sequester even more carbon.
Many groves utilize power from solar panels to provide energy to irrigation water pumps.
Computer and internet connected tree growth sensors are used to ensure the efficient use of water and fertilizer.
Drones play an important role in precision farming, which help to achieve sustainable farming practices while also increasing profitability. Used to monitor the health of the trees, our drones are equipped with cameras and sensors that provide accurate information regarding growth, temperature, and the presence of pests.
Within an avocado grove, there are areas that cannot be planted due to natural topography. These natural environments are retained to encourage the growth of native plants and vegetation, which in turn helps preserve native species populations.
Monarch butterfly populations have been declining since the 1990s due to loss of habitat, severe weather, and the depletion of Oyamel Fir trees in the Mexican state of Michoacan, the monarchs winter habitat. The Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association (MHAIA) has partnered with Forest for Monarchs, a monarch conservation agency, to help fight for the monarchs’ survival. Their main efforts include reforesting the monarchs winter roost, and educating local farmers in the Michoacan farming communities about the importance of sustainability.
Avocado groves are green in more ways than one. Recycling efforts start with reutilizing the green waste that each grove produces.
Groves produce many types of green waste, but by using wood chippers, old limbs and trees that have grown too tall are ground into mulch, and the mulch is spread throughout the groves to improve tree and soil health. Avocado leaf layer is also a perfect mulch and naturally occurring event during the growing season. Mulch adds nutrients to the soil, retains moisture, and helps control water runoff and soil erosion. In addition, it provides an environment for beneficial microorganisms to help breakdown mulch and provide nutrients to the root systems. Branches from discarded trees are also used to prop and support healthy branches weighed down by fruit. This process ensures the health of the trees and protects the crop.
State-of-the-art technology is used to help the packinghouse and regional ripening and distribution centers run as efficiently as possible. Here are some of the ways technology is helping Henry stay green:
In 2020, Henry installed rooftop and carport solar panels at its headquarters in Escondido, CA. The 1174 panel structure produces over 700,000 KW per year and reduces annual CO2 emissions by 550 tons.
In Henry ripening and cold storage rooms, 3-phase 460V electricity is used which requires less amps while providing more power.
Buildings are all outfitted with LED motion-activated lighting.
Energy audits are performed to identify opportunities to reduce Henry’s energy usage.
The refrigeration system for cold-storage rooms collects and recycles water condensation.
Trucks are efficient, emissions compliant, and meet state and federal standards. They are also equipped with GPS temperature and location monitors to ensure proper avocado temperatures and efficient routing.
The packing and processing equipment in all facilities uses state-of-the-art technologies to increase efficiency, reduce electricity, and limit fruit damage.
Standards at all regional ripening and distribution centers are frequently updated as new technology is developed.
Waste that is produced in the packing process is separated, which greatly reduces the amount of refuse put into a landfill. This practice enables Henry to recycle over 100 tons of cardboard and wood products annually.
All of the packaging used by Henry is either 100% recyclable corrugated cardboard boxes, poly net bags or reusable plastic containers.
Henry participates in pallet exchange programs which reduces the usage of wood.
The entire Henry fleet consists of low emission tractor-trailers and refrigerated trailers.
Many of Henry’s forklifts and pallet transportation vehicles are charged at solar powered charging stations.
Safety is a top priority at Henry and it is controlled and re-evaluated continuously through Henry’s Worker Safety Program.
Employees are provided with an organized, clean, and responsible work environment, where they are paid fairly and treated with dignity.
Each of the international facilities that export fruit to Henry are inspected annually to ensure worker safety and to assure they meet Henry’s high cleanliness standards.
Profitability must be part of the discussion on sustainability. If the company fails financially, there is no benefit in being environmentally sustainable. Profitability benefits those beyond the ownership group seeking to secure a reasonable return on their investment each year. All employees, suppliers, and customers are economically connected to Henry’s fiscal responsibility and success.