South African fig and pomegranate research set to pay off
South Africa's fig industry future looks bright with the first commercial plantings this September of cultivars bearing large size fruit and high yields while pomegranate research for sweeter smaller seeded fruit is also well underway.
Colors Fruits research and development division, Colors Innovation, has been working with horticulturalist Keith Wilson since 2008 on different varieties from rootstocks to get high quality fruit resistant to diseases and pests such as nematodes worms.
Wilson told www.freshfruitportal.com using rootstocks, for example with the Spanish Col De Dame, he has managed to increase yields by five and a half times and fruit size by 4%.
"We took six rootstocks in total and married them to a commercial variety as a top graft. We ended up with a number of different combinations. It was a process trying to learn which ones worked."
Wilson said ten growers in the Capetown area have been identified to grow figs developed by the program.
Early maturing varities such as Breba will see the first harvests at the end of November until just before Christmas, while later cultivars will come to fruition in February and March 2013.
Figs are notoriously labor intensive requiring daily picking in the harvest season. South Africa's predicted fig exports for this season are expected to show a year-on-year 30% rise at 100 metric tons (MT).
Wilson has also been working on introducing new pomegranate cultivars, such as Russian Reds, from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and crossing them with existing commercial varieties in South Africa, originally from the Mediterranean.
"I am trying to make pomegranates more user friendly. We are trying to produce softer fruit with as small a seed as possible."
He said at the moment the majority of pomegranates sold in supermarkets come from U.S. or Indian cultivars which compared with countries from the Causcasus region are significantly inferior.
Wilson said this season he will be examining his fruit from first planting and documenting the results.
He currently has three growers who have planted the new varieties and is look for another commercial 50 hectare plot to do more plantings in six months' time.
Wilson believes South African growers need to learn more about the qualities of particular cultivars before they start planting. For example, certain cultivars can produce 60% juice from the total fruit weight whereas others have a much lower liquid yield.
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