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Flash Gala’s high pack-outs drive producer profitability

The mesmerising full-red colour initially drew Alexander Gibson from Doornkraal Agri in the Witzenberg Valley near Ceres to the South African Bigbucks apple variety.

"The prospects for price, especially in the Eastern markets, and pack-outs were equally attractive, and today I can say the variety met my expectations," says the acclaimed third-generation farmer, who has been farming with 10 hectares of the sought-after apples, branded as Flash Gala, for the past few years.

Alexander established his first standard Bigbucks orchard in 2018, followed by a high-density orchard in 2020. He chose the MM109 rootstock for the first orchard and planted it at 4 m x 1.5 m. As a proponent of dwarfing rootstocks, he opted for M9 at a plant width of 3.5 m x 1.25 m for the second planting, but says it should've been even narrower (3 m x 1 m). Nets cover both orchards to protect them from ice rain and sunburn and to ensure better pack-outs.

He is especially impressed with the high-density orchard's yield and quality. "Apple trees on dwarfing rootstocks, such as M9, come into bearing much earlier than trees grown on a standard-size rootstock and will pack more class 1 cartons. Our M9 orchard yielded 29 tonnes per hectare in its second leaf, 45 tonnes per hectare in its third leaf, and 65 tonnes per hectare this year, and we expect it to increase even more as the orchard picks up."

That being said, Alexander doesn't believe in chasing tonnes per hectare. "I'd much rather harvest fewer tonnes per hectare and be able to export 90% of the fruit. The money is not in the tonnes, but in the number of class 1 export cartons," he explains, adding that trees in high-density orchards are markedly smaller and the apples' exposure to sunlight is much better, resulting in excellent colour and quality.

Its good colouring abilities ensure that Flash Gala is one of the most profitable varieties in the local apple industry. "The fact that you can pack a minimum of 80% into exporting cartons thanks to the attractive full-red colour, which is very attractive in the East, drives profitability back to the farm."

On Doornkraal, they culled only 6% of apples in the M9 orchard and 9% in the MM109 orchard. These were sent to the local juicing facility. "We packed 87% export-class apples from both M9 and MM109. In the one orchard, 77% of the fruit adhered to Flash Gala standards, and 10% was marketed as Bigbucks. In the second orchard, we packed 82% as Flash Gala and 5% as Bigbucks."

For more information:
Lucille Botha
Email: [email protected]

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