New avocado research an industry game-changer

Greg Krenske of Farmgate Spring Creek offers some wisdom on Avocado growing, following more than 35 years' experience.
Greg Krenske of Farmgate Spring Creek offers some wisdom on Avocado growing, following more than 35 years' experience. Francis Witsenhuysen

IF YOU'VE ever looked at the price of a single avocado and instantly developed a few extra grey hairs, the reason isn't, for the most part, that supermarkets are hell-bent on ripping us all off.

A huge part of that cost is caused by the difficulties of avocado tree supply, a problem that has long plagued the industry.

When University of Queensland researcher Professor Neena Mitter first took an interest in avocados a decade ago, she found one of the biggest problems farmers had was with the plant supply chain and decided to look further into the issue.

What she discovered is set to change the industry.

"There is a critical bottle neck of supply,” Prof Mitter said.

"If a farmer wants to put in 10,000 new trees or a new grower wants to start an orchard or if a banana grower wants to diversify his income, it can take two to three years to get those plants.

"So I talked to a nursery person and asked why we couldn't supply more trees to the growers.”

She found the problem lay somewhere in the process of growing from cuttings.

She said this method was preferred over seeds as growers knew they would be getting a quality plant with predictable attributes, but the problem was it took between 12 and 18 months for a cutting to develop roots.

And if a farmer needed 10,000 trees, he would also need 10,000 cuttings to produce them, a method that has cost and labour issues even at first glance.

It all added to the bottom line for farmers, with growers paying anywhere up to $50 per plant when establishing or renewing an orchard.

"That made me think, 'why does it take so long to root?' and that's where we started experimenting a little more,” Prof Mitter said.

"We take the youngest part of the cutting and try to multiply it.

"We get the cutting into the lab and by taking that young, growing tissue off the plant, we can make 500 plants off a single cutting with no genetic modification involved.”

She said at the basis of the research was gaining a thorough understanding of exactly what a young avocado plant needed to thrive, including sugar, nutrients and light.

The new method had another positive in allowing farmers to plant higher density orchards.

Prof Mitter said because so many plants could be struck from a single cutting, it meant farmers knew almost precisely how big the trees would grow, allowing them to be planted at higher densities.

It also meant new varieties could be commercially viable sooner.

"The third advantage is if a new variety comes in suitable for different regions, it might take 10 years before it is commercially available,” she said.

"That might only take two or three years now.”

She said demand for avocados continued to grow, both domestically and in export markets, so the new technology would allow for much faster growth, which held plenty of flow-on benefits from the farm gate all the way down the supply chain.

Prof Mitter said the technology was set to enter the trial phase early next year in locations across the country.

Topics:  avocado university of queensland

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