Just Avocados is on track to finishing up export packing this month, despite traditional high values in Australia post-Christmas – a strategy the packer and exporter says is all about the long-term sustainability of the avocado industry.
“The approach to hold fruit late to take advantage of late retail premium in Australia doesn’t make financial sense when you consider the reduction in pack-out, the quality issues associated with late-season maturity, and the loss of return crop potential,” says Darling Group general manager of group sales and marketing, Jacob Darling.
He believes the industry needs a consistent supply of avocados year-on-year and one tool growers have to promote return crop is harvesting the majority of the crop prior to flowering.
Just Avocados’ technical manager Erica Faber is a strong advocate for this approach, saying that hanging fruit late starves the tree of what it needs to produce subsequent season’s crop.
“The tree only has so many resources to go around and when holding the majority of the crop late, the fruit becomes the dominant metabolic sink and where most of the resources move to. “Inadequate carbohydrate reserves to the flowers and fruitlets results in either poorer fruit set or higher fruitlet drop.
Irregular bearing intensified
Erica says if there is not enough resource, a large majority of the flowers end up being determinate – which means not only will the fruit be exposed to sunburn and sizing affected but there will be no spring flush emerging – which is next year’s flowering wood.
“As this cycle perpetuates, where resources get exhausted one year and then built up again when there is little crop only to overflower the next year, irregular bearing becomes intensified and harder to manage,” says Erica.
Australian retail and Asia provide the market opportunities for New Zealand avocados harvested prior to Christmas – however, Jacob says Asia has been challenging for the industry from a value perspective.
“It’s a difficult concept for growers to get their head around, and it’s a difficult pitch for us to discourage chasing the high prices in Australia after Christmas. But we see the benefits in per hectare OGR for growers who are harvesting earlier and who have a decent volume and good pack-out.”
Just Avocados is analysing the profitability of orchards they have identified as having the right formula for the future.
“We are developing case studies around those orchards that have a sustainable model.
“The key factors are scale, consistency, maximum pack-out and applying best practice with regards to genetics, pruning and nutrition.”
Jacob says he’d like ‘early harvest’ to be added to the list of ‘best practice’.
“There needs to be a change in growers’ approach to harvest and an understanding of its link to better production – or we will continue to have the same outcome of inconsistent cropping.”