Erica Faber - orchard productivity manager with Just Avocados.
As a child, Erica Faber spent her pocket money on plants, and later – against her family’s wishes –studied horticulture, instead of commerce, at university.
“I don’t know where it came from, but I have always had a love of plants,” says Erica, who, after emigrating from South Africa, has taken up the role of orchard productivity manager with Just Avocados.
After leaving university Erica worked for a number of horticultural companies including those involved in tissue culture, plant breeding and citrus growing before specialising in avocados.
“Avocados are a challenging and fascinating crop to grow and worldwide it is a relatively new industry,” says Erica, who admits to an enthusiasm for avocados means she can talk almost endlessly on the subject.
It’s that knowledge and enthusiasm which she brings to her role with Just Avocados, where Erica will lead programmes to support growers nationally to increase their productivity, including providing technical advice, targeted field events and regular and proactive communications about orchard management.
Erica has more than 21 years’ experience in the horticulture industry with 16 years as a technical advisor and has gained recognition in the citrus and avocado industries for innovative contributions improving propagation, production and profits.
Most recently she managed all facets of production on a 175 ha avocado operation in South Africa, where she was responsible for the yearly 20ha to 40 ha expansion of the orchard, market and customer compliance, including Global GAP, and harvesting to integrate with overseas markets to ensure optimum profitability.
While managing this orchard, Erica carried out a number of avocado research trials on irregular bearing, pest control, pruning techniques, and influencing the onset of bearing in young trees. The application of positive learnings from this research significantly improved the profitability of this business.
“Throughout the world’s avocado growing regions there are challenges with irregular bearing but by paying attention to what the tree wants and meeting those needs, we were able to address that problem in South Africa and I hope to help Just Avocado’s growers do the same,” says Erica.
The biggest difference Erica sees between the industries in South Africa and New Zealand is scale.
“One of the companies in South Africa alone produces the equivalent of the entire New Zealand avocado crop and 35ha is considered a small orchard.”
By comparison New Zealand has 1600 growers, many with orchards as small as 2ha. “The nice thing about the industry in New Zealand for me is many of the growers I’ve spoken to say growing avocados provides them with an income and a lifestyle they enjoy.”
Demand for avocados in all markets is growing rapidly and even if all international growing regions increased production by 10 times the current yields, they would not be able to keep up, says Erica.
Andrew Darling of Just Avocados says the company is delighted to have Erica join the team and he’s confident that with her knowledge and support, Just Avocado’s growers will be able to further improve their orchard performance.
While Australia remains New Zealand’s biggest market, other opportunities are opening up, especially in Asia and India – and Andrew says the key to continued success for New Zealand growers is to consistently produce top quality fruit which commands a premium in the marketplace.