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AU: Initial results promising for new late avocado variety

We all know how popular avocados are around the world, some of us like the green while other prefer the black skins, and probably the most well known is the Hass variety. Well, there is a newcomer to the avocado family, the Gem avocado. It is a black skin, similar in many ways to the Hass, but different in its handling and ripening.

Sunshine Coast-based Subtropical Fruit Farm Consultancy Services (SFFCS) is licensed to develop and manage the Intellectual Property of the UC 3-29-5, trademarked Gem Avocado® in Australia. Denis Roe, owner of SFFCS is a key player in the further development of Gem Avocado® in Australia.

"The Gem Avocado® tree is lower vigor than the Hass and usually gives a higher yield. The trees are lower vigor making it easier to manage and harvest and also means they can be planted at a higher density. The trees are also less prone to severe alternate bearing than Hass," explains Denis. "Fruit skin colour turns from green (when on the tree) to a dark burgundy/black when ready to eat."

The harvest season of the Gem Avocado® is slightly later than that of Hass, allowing for a later marketing window. In warmer regions, such as Bundaberg Qld, fruit harvesting will be from about June-July onwards. In the cooler southern regions of NSW/Vic/SA, harvesting starts about October to December, and in WA fruit will most likely hang until February.

He goes on to say that although there has not been enough research done yet in Australia, in South Africa they are getting 20-30% more yield per ha than Hass orchards. "In Australia we have a wide variety of climatic conditions in the various regions, but in traditional avocado growing areas you will most likely achieve 20-30%. But this still has not been scientifically proven."

It is still early days for the Gem Avocado® as far as production in Australia is concerned. Last season over 100 tonnes of premium grade fruit was harvested. The grower club is still developing with 15 growers at the moment, many of which are not yet in production.

"We are expecting in excess of 150 tonnes this coming season," said Denis. "Approximately 10,000 trees have been planted so far. We are still monitoring how it goes, as most of the research was done in South Africa and California. I have only had the license to the variety for two years."

Trees take around three years to come in to commercial production, and are more precocious than the Hass variety. According to Denis you will get some fruit from Hass in three years but you are likely to get more from Gem, sometimes even after two years.

"It is a great variety but it is very difficult to break into the established Hass market as supermarkets prefer Hass predominantly. We are still at niche volumes making it hard to even try to supply the big retailers at the moment. So the fruit is going into specialist markets, including some upper end specialist fruit retailers just now."

The Gem Avocado® fruit does not behave in the same way as Hass, it has a thicker skin which peels away from the flesh easily, almost like a banana, according to Denis, and unlike the Hass if it is just yielding to hand pressure, it is eat-ripe. The fruit is very attractive at colour change with white lenticles against a burgundy colour. In general it is a slightly bigger fruit than the Hass variety, with less variability in fruit size.

"The thicker skin makes it feel just a little firmer than Hass," he explains. To inform customers, there is a leaflet which goes with every carton to explain to the retailers and wholesalers how to handle it and to tell them at what stage the fruit is ripe. They are sold pre-ripened when the colour change has taken place and are close to eating ripeness."

As with other avocado varieties there is a waiting period for trees. In Australia a number of nurseries are licensed to propagate the trees, but there is a country-wide shortage of avocado trees with a three-year waiting list.

As for marketing strategy, Denis said that when volumes increase they would like to offer it to the supermarkets, but at the moment they just don't have enough volume to supply a supermarket program. The Licensed marketers, All Aussie Farmers and Natures Fruit Company, are quite innovative in their marketing approach, and are able adapt to changing fruit volumes and circumstances quickly.

For more information:
Denis Roe
Tel: +61 (0)401546107

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