Maluma avocado hits the gas to catch up with Hass

May 02 , 2017

One of the pioneers of the Hass avocado variety in Spain believes the cultivar could eventually be displaced by the South African-developed Maluma, while the breeders behind it see it “will only be a matter of time” before their plantings are surpassed by Peru. At Fresh Fruit Portal, we catch up with some of the world’s key Maluma proponents, each with their own take on what the fruit might mean for their industries. 

In the hit reggaeton song ‘Chantaje’ by Shakira, fellow Colombian singer Maluma pleads with her, singing “I don’t know why you keep me on the waiting list”.

Avocado growers are asking the same thing of Allesbeste Nursery in South Africa, which is at full tilt propagating material to try to keep up with demand for the avocado variety of the same name. In an unheard of event for the fruit industry in March, a prospective grower offered to pay 12 times the list price in an auction for Maluma trees.

And the demand outside of South Africa for field testing and commercial plantings has also been insatiable. 

“Camposol, which is a global monster in avocados, put in around two hectares of trials last year. I think they’ll be convinced,” says Odilo Duarte, the man responsible for bringing Maluma to Peru and perhaps to Shakira’s native Colombia in the near future.

But Camposol is by no means at the vanguard. As in other fruit crops like apples, leading players simply cannot afford not to be involved with the most attractive new varieties in the pipeline.

Duarte has only targeted his country’s largest growers and the effort has paid off. Peru now boasts 96ha of Maluma planted, and existing pre-orders show that figure should rise to 170ha next year, 270ha in 2019 and 363ha in 2020. 

To put this in context, that surface area will be about the same as 1994 levels for Hass plantings in Peru, so Maluma still has a long way to go. But the exponential rise from a mere 10 hectares in 2012 is hard to ignore.

“Talsa is the leading company at the moment with around 60ha. They did the first trial of six hectares in the zone of Chao, a little bit south of Trujillo, and then they thought of a new farm north of Trujillo in a zone called Sanya,” Duarte says.

Hass avocado growth has also been strong in the country’s far northern region of Piura, but according to Duarte the area’s excess heat sometimes leads to smaller fruit. As is also the case in the hot conditions of northern Queensland in Australia, Maluma may prove apt in that sense given it naturally sizes larger than Hass.

“Last year was very hot so even Maluma came out a bit smaller than they expected, so we’ll have to see how they go this year with a more ‘normal’ heat. But always with this heat Maluma is greater than Hass in size,” he says.

“Right now there is also an order from Cerro Prieto, a very large company that has almost 1,000ha of avocados. They want to do a trial of 10 hectares, because it seems their clients in Europe asked them ‘why don’t you bring us some Malumas?’

The reason Duarte thinks Camposol will be convinced of Maluma is that a few miles south of its trial in Trujillo, companies such as Talsa, Arato Peru and Agricola Virú are testing the cultivar as well with good results to date.

“They all have trials of two or three hectares which have been so beautiful,” he says, adding major markets for the fruit right now include Spain and Switzerland.

“Maluma has a different characteristic to Hass that once it’s harvested it breathes with much more intensity, and so what’s recommended is that the day it’s harvested it has to be cooled. You can’t wait until the next day. 

“Once it’s ripe, you put it in the refrigerator and it lasts much longer than Hass. It has a faster and uniform ripening, so it colors the fruit better.” 

Daniel Bustamante, president of Peruvian avocado grower association ProHass, takes a diplomatic approach to the variety by emphasizing its benefits along with the likes of Westfalia’s Gem and Carmen varieties.

“They would be the three varieties people are trying which could be very attractive,” Bustamante says.

“Apart from the attributes like eating quality – they are very tasty – at an agricultural level they have the advantage of being able to widen production windows.

“I understand the Maluma could be three or four weeks before the normal Hass, and it seems the Carmen is the same. And the Gem could extend the season – this will help a lot in widening the production windows for Peru to supply the market, as today it has a much smaller window than other growing countries.”

A slower start for Chile

According to San José Nursery technical manager Juan Pablo Toledo, imports of Maluma plant material were finalized in 2013 but the industry had to wait 2.5 years with the variety in quarantine before trees could be release. 

“Quarantine was a process that cost us a bit as we had to find suitable land for the requirements asked by SAG (Agriculture and Livestock Service),” Toledo says

“The release was delayed a bit more than expected due to the undertaking of additional tests, but finally in June 2016 we could take the mother trees to the nursery and then start planting in the field.” 

He says quarantine procedures took place in the Illapel area in the northern Coquimbo region, from where plants were then transported to the company’s nursery in the La Cruz area of the Valparaiso region.

“Up until now we have 62 mother trees which are planted in two orchards, from where we are taking material for multiplication,” he says.

“Currently the first stage of evaluation is being done by the company Agricom, which will plant the first 3,000 trees between September this year and March next year.

“The idea for these productive trials is to see how the plants behave, how they adapt to different temperatures and what are their growth and production habits.”

He says the mother plants have now produced fruit and show similarities to Hass.

Maluma avocado plants at Vivero San Jose

Agricom research manager Juan Enrique Ortúzar says the company aims to find alternative varieties to Hass “which allow you to improve production per hectare that today is around 10 [metric] tons (MT) per hectare, reduce alternative bearing and keep a smaller tree that adapts better to high density and makes it easier to harvest”.

“Without a doubt it is one of the new varieties that has awakened a lot of interest. Improving production and making harvests easier from a smaller tree are valuable characteristics for improving the competitiveness of the national industry, so we believe that if the variety has a good productive performance in Chile it will gain its place,” Ortúzar says. 

Toledo believes alternative varieties to Hass have actually become almost obsolete in overseas markets given the Hass’ quality and consistency have made it a favorite amongst consumers. However, he feels differently about Maluma, which could be an alternative or a complement to the more common variety.

Ortúzar says Maluma appears to be a bit longer than Hass, and it remains to be seen whether that will allow it to have the same reception as Hass in markets.

“There are commercial considerations that have to be sorted out. The international market today is one that asks for Hass, so together with growing well the variety has to reach the market well and capture consumer preferences,” he says. 

“In that sense, the commercial development that is being done in South Africa is very valuable because as the variety is planted the market trade channels have to grow.

“I believe that all varieties that aren’t indistinguishable from Hass have a commercial challenge that will require growers to plant varieties that strictly meet protocols to ensure quality.”

He says the company plans to plant 10ha of Maluma in the first stage, in two production zones with different climatic conditions. 

“In that stage we expect to evalue how the tree grows and produces [fruit], determine the harvest window in each zones, the distribution amongst sizes and also evaluate its post-harvest and condition on arrival in different markets, so as to understand in which markets it could have the best acceptance.”

Spain: A bold call from an avocado veteran 

Spanish nurseryman Saturnino Blanco of Viveros Blanco is no stranger to Chile. In the 1970s he worked in Santiago’s iconic La Vega wholesale market and then with avocados in Quillota, where he witnessed the birth of the country’s Hass avocado industry.

Later, he went back to Europe and claims to be one of the pioneers of the Hass cultivar in Spain. Now his nursery represents Maluma for Allesbeste in the Mediterranean country. 

“I have brought in almost 100 commercial varieties,” Blanco says.

“I went around the world a few times looking for varieties; that was my obsession, varieties and rootstocks. For a nursery, it’s perhaps the most important of all, finding new genetics. 

Saturnino and Ruben Blanco

“I have been bringing in trees from around the world for 45 years, and I think I can stop, because in the last 10 years we’ve found a variety that perhaps won’t be as good as Hass but with 95% of Hass’ qualities.”

He then proceeds to describe several of Maluma’s advantages has that could make it preferable from a production standpoint. 

“One of those is the peduncle (a type of stem between the tree and the fruit), which is very important because here there are often a lot of winds and we’ve seen that it doesn’t fall. It’s not easy for the wind to throw the fruit to the ground,” he says.

“The resistance of the Maluma peduncle is much stronger than what Hass has. If a grower sees they have a lot of fruit and one day a wind blows it all to the ground they are desperate. So they’re very happy with this variety.

“The color is attention-grabbing too, it’s very green, and if the fruit does fall to the ground it won’t be very damaged because the skin is about 1.9mm thick compared to Hass’ 1.4-1.5mm.”

But for Blanco, the icing on the cake is the tree’s shape that lends itself to denser orchards. 

“The tree covers a small diameter within a farm and has a great production, because its shape is perimetrical like a cypress; it doesn’t open.

“You can plant it very well in 3×3 (meters) over many years. With other varieties you can’t achieve that.

“Maluma is a tree that in very little space produces a lot of kilos – that’s the most important thing for the grower. The size of the fruit is very good, the dry matter is very high, and it’s not like that with other avocados.”

He says this is even more relevant considering a lot of Spanish avocado production, like in Chile, is on hills with limited space.

“It will displace it [Hass] through production because of what I’ve just said…and if it doesn’t displace it, it’ll create a lot of problems.

“Right now we are just starting. We’ve been selling Maluma just three years and we have people who are very interested. But we don’t have so much material to be able to propagate as much as people want.

He adds farms need to be well enclosed too.

“When there’s a lot of interest in a variety, it gets robbed,” he says.

Blanco says England has been one of the top markets for the fruit due to a preference for larger avocados.

“It’s just a bit bigger than Hass,” he concludes. 

Israeli Maluma agent takes careful approach

Another major avocado supplier for the European market is Israel, where challenges with citrus in particular have driven more farms to switch crops to the high-pricing avocado.

A great deal of this development has been in Hass, but Oren Wallach of Oren Nursery Israel is cautiously optimistic that Maluma can gain a foothold in the country.

He first heard about the variety in 2011, but similarly to other nurserymen around the world the quarantine and propagation processes were lengthy.

“The main issue was to produce the initial material and distribute it in as many places as possible, because although we are a very small country it’s important to try it in many weather and soil conditions,” Wallach says. 

“The last planting year in 2016 we distributed this to about 16 locations, some places with bigger numbers but mainly tens of plants in each location. We distributed about 500 trees

“The coming season of 2017 we will distribute about 3,000 plants to the nursery, and in 2018 about 11,000, and then there is no limit of budwood material for the process.”

He believes in a year’s time there will be 25-30 production locations around the country “from the north to the south until the area of the Gaza Strip”.

“So far it looks like the Maluma is very precocious, from what we get from trees we were grafting in 2013. They are nice.

“They are going into production early but we don’t have any commercial quantities to say how fertile it is or what the yields are in each location.

“Here in in Israel we start to harvest when it is 19.5% dry matter – this according to the present trials that we made is around mid-October. It will be before the Hass, with the Ettinger, but it is very much of the Hass shape so I think it’ll be highly demanded in the market.”

He explains that even though the variety may have grown well in South Africa, Peru or elsewhere, that doesn’t mean it’s performance is a given in Israel.

“But from what I see so far, and I have to be very careful, I see very good signs,” he says.

“It will take a nice portion from the Hass market – I don’t think it will replace Hass but it will take a nice portion from the Hass. It will complement the Hass.”

Australia: Cooling orchard temperatures, trellising trials for potential automated harvesting

Australia is one of the most advanced producers of Maluma, with a partnership between DBC Farming and Costa Group marketing the fruit around the country. 

DBC Farming’s Henk van Niekerk says domestic demand has been so strong that exports haven’t been able to start up yet, although exports are a top priority.

“We planted the first Maluma trial block of 30 trees in the year 2010, and then the year after that April, 2011 we planted a further 1,000 trees of Maluma,” he says.

The number of trees on DBC’s farm has since increased to 12,000 while other growers in Australia are also starting plantings.  

“Production has been pretty good so far. We had one year where it wasn’t so good and that was due to cold weather. We’ve been very pleased with them – quality was very good,” he says.

“What I think we can do better is just to judge harvesting time a bit better to make sure we don’t get any of that overripe fruit on the trees, so that’s one thing we will look at.

“You can’t handle the fruit as a Hass variety, you’ve got to handle it as a brand new Maluma avocado variety.”

He says for his farm in Dimbulah, Queensland, the season normally starts in March and finishes at the end of April. But this season everything we packed a bit earlier.

“We wanted to come in just before Easter so we don’t have that big gap – the reason we didn’t stretch it out is because the volume’s really limited; I’m the only one with sufficient production,” he says.

“We didn’t want to put fruit on the market and then go into the Easter break which would make a big dip in the market where there’d be no supply.

“But in the coming years when there’s more fruit around different states, I think there’ll be a more even supply of Maluma avo so you can prolong it a little bit so you can run right into your normal Hass season.”

He says a massive benefit of Maluma’s is its smaller seed than other varieties, while its sizing allows for improved pricing.

“That means you get more value for money – you get more avocado than seed.

“A box of avocados you’ve got to pack to 5.5 kilograms, so if you take on a size 18 which is the most value for money, there’s less fruit going into that size of box, so you benefit more.

“For example at the supermarket outlet Coles, they like sizes between 18 and 23-25, just for the reason it’s easier to sell in the supermarket because you’ve got even sizes. They charge a once-off unit price, for instance two dollars per avocado; it’s not by kilogram or anything like that so you’ve got to keep consistent sizes on the shelf.”

As the Australian Maluma industry has had more time to develop, van Niekerk is now at the stage of trialing new farming and post-harvest practices in a bid to improve output.

One of the most revolutionary experiments in the avocado industry is Allesbeste’s Maluma trellising, and in Australia van Niekerk has started doing something similar.

“It’s only a small trial with 350 trees in there – we’re just going to experiment with that, see how that goes and if there are any big benefits in it,” he says.

“For us the main thing with trellising is looking into the future of automated harvesting. We’re trying to sort one part of that out by putting trees on trellising, making it more available and acceptable to whichever machine will be created going into the future, and of course fruit quality.

“At the moment they’re very young trees – they’re only a couple of months old so they’re not in production yet. The only benefit so far that I can see is it’s really just keeping the tree on the wires instead of staking it up, so you’ve got a little bit of control of the tree so you can pull it upright, and you can push the branches the way you want them.”

Another practice he plans to adopt is the use of wet walls to cool down orchards and packing areas during harvest.

“Because we’re in a very hot environment, when we’re harvesting it’s on average about 30-33°C so if you can take that temperature down to about 22-25°C, that’ll be excellent, that’ll give you better shelf life,” he says.

“It’s the same as with table grapes. What we use are wet walls, just a normal wet wall where water runs through and you’ve got fans blowing through that, and the average temperature is about 23°C which works pretty well.

“So we’ll be looking at installing some of them where we store the avocados and we’ll probably use the same principle on Shepards too, our other greenskin variety.”

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