Westfalia showcased its ongoing developments at Fruit Logistica
Westfalia Fruit is the world’s largest private investor in the avocado research program based in South Africa. The team consists of in-house researchers, scientists, and technicians who are aligned with several key academic research programs globally.
For more than 40 years the research has focused on three key areas to drive the industry forward: rootstocks, reducing inputs, and continuous development and exploration.
The team focuses on disease-tolerant clonal rootstocks to develop superior avocado tree health and yields, in varying local conditions, that require minimal external inputs.
Due to the time that it can take (35 years) to commercially develop new varieties, this work requires considerable investment.
The process includes several years of planting trials in both nursery and orchard environments, with results continuously monitored throughout. With its diverse growing footprint, nursery, and orchard trials are also duplicated across each growing area as the local natural environment is a key consideration.
“We’ve had ongoing success with existing avocado rootstocks such as Latas and Dusa, which offer high root-rot tolerance and higher yields. Dusa also offers some salinity tolerance and it’s been the top seller among clonally propagated rootstocks worldwide with more than 1.5 million Dusa trees sold annually,” said Johnathan Sutton, Group Safety and Environment Executive at Westfalia.
“Leola and Zerala are new rootstocks that were introduced to the market in 2020. With these, Westfalia can support growers with higher-yielding rootstocks developed to suit a range of specific growing conditions around the world. Zerala™ is the rootstock of choice for growing in areas facing salinity challenges. Ongoing trials in Peru are showing very positive outcomes and the first trees are scheduled to be planted in 2024,” Johnathan continued.
Westfalia’s work also includes research into reducing synthetic fungicides in the harvesting process, with research focused on breeding plant genetics to be more tolerant to pests and diseases, as well as plant-based treatments.
“These plant-based treatments are natural fruit sterilants like mineral or plant-based oils such as thyme or citrus oil. We currently have four or five different trials running using natural fungicides across Westfalia’s global operations in Europe and beyond,” explained Johnathan.
“These trials are a good demonstration of how we approach to research at Westfalia, based on our founder, Hans Merensky’s philosophy. In a three-step process, we carry out thorough research, take that into demonstration trials and then move to commercialization if the first two steps are successful. There is no place in our business for new technology or science without thorough and measured testing. This formula helps us to achieve success!”
Some of the work undertaken by the team can be less reliant on technology and laboratory work, for example, plant spacing in orchards, which examines how different spaces between trees can affect yield and tree health.
Recent trials suggested that wider gaps of 4 meters may be beneficial for specific cultivars – whilst some cultivars preferred 2-meter gaps – highlighting that not all are the same and trials must be tailored and recorded for different cultivars, environments, and other variables.
Irrigation, feeding, and husbandry techniques are also continuously questioned and examined to determine best practices for tree health, yield, quality, and the environment.