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South African Bigbucks apple variety granted plant breeders’ rights Down Under

Bigbucks, the Gala mutation from South Africa, known for its wine red colour, entered a new chapter after it was recently granted plant breeders' rights in Australia.

"If anybody in Australia wants to plant a Gala-type apple, and they don't consider Bigbucks, they are shooting themselves in the foot. Bigbucks is now the improved Gala with the best colour potential," explained Anthony Rawbone-Viljoen, on whose estate the mutation was discovered in 2011 in a Corder Gala orchard by Tru-Cape's new variety specialist, Buks Nel. Since then, about 2.5 million trees have been planted in South Africa, with looming interest from America, India, and the European Union.

Together with Derek Corder, the founder of Corder Gala, Rawbone-Viljoen and Nel formed Pink Vein, a company aimed at promoting Bigbucks and the Flash Gala brand. Bigbucks apples that adhere to strict specifications are marketed under the Flash Gala banner, where the trademark has been registered in apple-consuming countries around the world.

"From our perspective, it is interesting that Australia is a market for domestically produced fruit, and the industry never fully focused on exports, so it is not a competitor to South African producers, making it a win-win situation," Rawbone-Viljoen said.

Long, rigorous process
After much deliberation, their paths crossed with Brendon Francis of Fruit Varieties International in Tasmania, and the long process of achieving plant breeders' rights kicked off.

"Firstly, they had to get the plant material, plant it, and only then could authorities evaluate the fruit. The whole process took around five years," explained Rawbone-Viljoen.

After a rigorous process of growing plant material and testing for viruses, Francis planted trees on different sites around Australia.

"Nurserymen were saying it stands head and shoulders above what they have in Australia. It is now over to them to promote the variety," said Rawbone-Viljoen, who reckons Bigbucks will eventually be produced commercially in New South Wales, Western Australia, Tasmania, and Southern Australia.

"Bigbucks can colour better than any other Gala, so it is just a question of them making the variety known to local growers through the nursery industry."

Eventually, certain nurseries will be granted planting licenses, which will be conditional upon meeting certain quality parameters. "We want growers to pursue the right way to do this by producing quality products matching the standard that we set for the variety from here."

First-grade pack-outs
Bigbucks is known to offer first-grade pack-outs of around 80% per bin. Some of the oldest orchards in South Africa are now about eight years old, and since full-bearing age, the best orchard has yielded over 150 tonnes per hectare, proving its potential as a winning option for growers.

"It is absolutely extraordinary and changes the paradigm of the variety compared to other planting options."

The Gala category has a known track record and is well established globally, meaning the trade needs no convincing when it comes to varieties such as Bigbucks/Flash Gala.

"Gala is an established household name, and it's liked by consumers all over. An American marketing guy once said there are three important issues you need to consider when planting an apple. The first is red, the second is red, and the third is also red. Colour development in the blushed fruit category determines the pack-out, and the pack-out determines profitability. The whole thing is pretty easy to understand if you end up planting top-end red varieties like Bigbucks."

In terms of the agreement, it is an option for the Australians to use the Flash Gala brand name. Rawbone-Viljoen sees this as 'potentially quite exciting'. "Australia is a high-value market with the opportunity to charge prices that are interesting from a producer's point of view. I've been in the fruit business for a long time, but it required a specific science to take Bigbucks from a domestic variety to an increasingly global variety. At the end of the day, it's a competitive environment, and we just have to make sure that we stay ahead of the game. It's very exciting."

For more information:
Lucille Botha
[email protected]

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