South Africa: Maluma Day to challenge avocado sector's "convenient" position
While named after Allesbeste Nursery's increasingly popular variety, the Maluma Day which officially starts today (March 8) is also about reflection on growing and handling techniques to improve outcomes for all types of avocados.
"A lot of people are running after specific market windows to try and make the ‘quick kill’, and they buy property down in the Cape to try to get into 12-month supply," says Maluma marketing and communications representative Zander Ernst.
From the Allesbeste Nursery in Tzaneen, South Africa, Ernst emphasizes the laws of economics will catch up with everyone in the avocado sector, no matter what market windows they may find. In the case of year-round supply, he believes South Africa will be capable of this feat within the next five to 10 years.
"As soon as the laws of supply and demand kick in, then the best farmers survive," he says.
"That’s the principle for us – though these opportunities arise, we need to ensure we’re the better farmers, looking at production techniques, that we're looking at handling from the farm and improving that year-and-year. It’s not just a matter of putting money down on an investment.
"The theme for the day is modern farming practices and principles. We say we need to associate ourselves as an industry with moving forward."
To illustrate the point, he draws a comparison between avocados and more established crops like apples.
"Today we look at apple trees and they’re all trellised up against wires and flat to get the sunlight, but 60 years ago they weren’t like that," he says.
"You still find apple trees in the Cape that look like normal trees – they are still successful, but for people who took that extra step it’s just more profitable."
Allesbeste itself has trialed trellising with Maluma avocados as well, which are perhaps better suited to the practice than Hass trees, and initial results have been promising.
"I have 12 lines of trellising which are 20 meters each. It was just out of pure interest and with the results of that already I’ve learnt more about Maluma and avocados," he says.
"It’s improving the techniques I’m using in my normal orchards, and it’s giving me an idea of what I want the first commercial trellis plantings to look like."
He says the trellising trial has brought a 200% increase in flowering on the trees.
"The difference is, what brings flowers into a tree? Sunlight. Suddenly the flowering was just so immense, we couldn’t believe it.
"But now if you look at the crop on the tree you’ll tell me 'no, it's not more than what the normal orchards are', and I'd agree; it's not more.
"So you went from 200% improvement in flowering to not any improvement on fruit, so where did it go wrong? It’s not the tree’s fault. You need to realize to put a certain number of fruit on I put a certain amount of fertilizer," he says, emphasizing he expects improved results with a different nutrient mix.
That's not to mention the extra space saved in an orchard through the use of trellising, allowing for more trees per hectare.
But the experiment is more illustrative of the company's ethos than anything else. If there's one key message from our discussion with the executive, it's that some growers may be "comfortable" with inefficient orchards now but that won't be good enough for the long-term.
Tinkering with orchards, adjusting handling practices and changing nursery practices will not be able to change the industry on their own. Ernst adds a key stimulus for industry development is also the sharing of findings and cross-checking experiences.
"I do believe every farmer has an obligation to collaborate and work with other farmers to improve production factors. You can’t sit on your own island.
"A lot of people believe they have secrets, they try to work on one or two secrets and that’s their recipe to success. But we believe there nothing is a secret and at the end of the day you need to keep on developing."
Stay tuned for our ongoing coverage of this unique event and its namesake cultivar in one of the world's most forward-thinking avocado-growing regions.