The founder of Westfalia, Dr Hans Merensky (HM), expressed the wish that international exchange in research should be promoted through Westfalia and the Hans Merensky Foundation. Therefore, WTS has the opportunity to invite a renowned researcher to Westfalia to enable interaction and sharing of international knowledge and experience. In the past, WTS had among others Prof John Menge and Dr Mary Lu Arpaia (both from the University of California Riverside), Prof. Dov Prusky (University of Jerusalem in Israel) and Dr. Richard Campbell (Fairtrade institute in Florida) visiting Westfalia as invited HM Fellows.
For the 2013 Fellow, WTS invited Dr. Iňaki Hormaza from Spain. Professor Hormaza is head of the Institute of Subtropical Fruit research at the University of Malaga with key interests in molecular tools for fingerprinting, breeding and germplasm conservation in temperate and subtropical fruit tree species; as well as the reproductive biology of temperate and subtropical fruit tree species with special interest in the effects of climate change on reproductive biology and pollen-pistil interactions. His avocado-specific research focuses on pollination of flowers; specifically the effect of starch content of avocado styles and its’ effect on pollen tube growth and pollination.
Dr. Hormaza visited Westfalia Fruit Estates from the 6th of May 2013. To facilitate and encourage international cross-pollination of research ideas, WTS also invited a few selected guests to contribute to a week-long technical session. These guests included Dr. Mary Lu Arpaia (University of California Riverside), Dr Elizabeth Dann (Queensland Alliance for Agriculture & Food Innovation, Australia), Dr. Monica Castro (Catholic University of Valparaiso, Chile) and Dr. Noelani van den Berg (University of Pretoria, Forestry and Biotechnology Institute). Also attending was a team from the Californian avocado nursery (Brokaw Nursery), which included Rob Brokaw and Dr. Octaviano Lemus.
The team of international visitors, in conjunction with the WTS research team, spent five days in various Westfalia Fruit Estate orchards and related facilities discussing a wide range of topics relevant to the management of the avocado supply/production chain. The visit by the 2013 HM fellow and his accompanying guests ensured that not only was the newest knowledge on avocados was exchanged, but it also strengthened the important collaborative bonds that WTS had developed with key institutions throughout the past few decades.
WTS is happy to announce we have a new horticultural scientist. Sibongile Mhlophe joined WTS from the Agricultural Research Council's Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Crops (ARC-ITSC). She completed her undergraduate training at the University of Pretoria, and attained her Masters in Agriculture at the University of Johannesburg (formerly RAU) working on postharvest life of specialty tomatoes. Then becoming a researcher at the ARC-ITSC from 2009 until 2012.
Sibongile will handling postharvest research and quality assurance. Please contact her if you have any relevant queries.
Hosted in the heart of the Eastern Cape at the Midgeley’s Hotel in Adelaide, the informative, all-day workshop drew a group of around 40 growers and other industry stakeholders from all over South Africa and as far abroad as Australia and Chile. The event proved an ideal opportunity for growers to increase their knowledge and understanding of how to cultivate Gem® – the exciting black skinned cultivar whose key selling point is its ability to be harvested later in the season than standard Hass.
Gem® tends to flower prolifically and is a precocious and consistent bearer. It is believed that due to slower oil accumulation, Gem® fruit can hang much longer on the tree than Hass without compromising fruit quality. Also, Gem® takes 4-6 weeks longer to reach the traditional maximum legal moisture content for the export of Hass fruit. Gem® can therefore be picked from June/July in the traditional growing area of Tzaneen, but can also be hung on the tree for much longer. In the Adelaide area, where approximately 35% of the Gem® crop is grown, it is expected that fruit can be hanged in the orchard as late as November/December. This stretches the supply of top-quality locally grown avocados closer to year-round.
Unsurpassed horticultural research
Westfalia has been involved in the evaluation of avocado genetic material since the 1970s, with promising plant material sourced locally and abroad in order to identify avocado cultivars with superior quality when compared to the commercial cultivars, and to extend the SA season for export and local market supply.
Westfalia’s research division, Westfalia Technological Services (WTS), has secured the licence to exclusively manage the propagation, production and marketing of the Gem® cultivar internationally, with small to large test plantings already under way in various countries including Chile, Australia, Israel and Brazil. The cultivar is internationally protected by USA Patent and Plant Breeders Rights in all avocado producing countries including South Africa, Europe and Chile.
After several years of evaluating the cultivar in its own orchards, WTS has established a closed Gem® Grower Club with 14 members who collectively have planted around 75 000 Gem® trees.
International collaborators share their experiences
During the first half of the Gem® Day, attendees were treated to a series of in-depth technical presentations and market analyses, including an update on the development of the cultivar in the South American Countries by the Chile-based WTS staff member Consuelo Fernandez, a native Chilean that assists in the technical management of intellectual property in South America. Consuelo was accompanied by two representatives of the Chilean company Subsole, who is the manager of the first Chilean Gem® test planting.
Also sharing their experience with Gem® was Dan Cork, the technical manager of Nature’s Fruit Company (NFC) in Australia, who was accompanied by the biggest Gem®-grower in Australia, Will Randall. There are approximately 5 000 Gem® trees planted in Australia currently, and plans are to expand these plantings once a market segment is identified where Gem® fits into the local Australian avocado market.
Tour of Gem® orchards
After a hearty lunch, Gem® Day attendees boarded a few buses to visit the nearby farms of some of the local growers. Here they could witness first-hand the distinct growth and flowering patterns of young Gem® trees, and address questions to any of the available WTS staff or presenters. The tour then returned to Adelaide for a casual evening braai – the perfect ending to a successful growers’ day.
Frans Gelderblom (Woolworths SA), Alan Snyman (Westfalia Fruit Products) and Barry Long (Adelaide farmer)
Lynton Freese (Westfalia Everdon Estate), Brett and Glenam Knot (Adelaide/Fort Beaufort Farmers), Jannie Lombard (Tzaneen Farmer) and Andres Link (Subsole).
The three Chileans – Christian Gutierrez(Subsole), Consuelo Fernandez (WTS), & Andres Link (Subsole)
Dan Cork (NFC), Will Randal (Australian Grower), Glenam Knot (Fort Beaufort and Theo Bekker (WTS)
Gem® tree in full flower
Gem® fruit on the tree