Avocado expansion in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape is being limited by access to trees – current waiting lists for clonal avocado seedlings run to 2025 in South Africa at the moment – but a new avocado nursery under construction just north of Gonubie, in the Eastern Cape, aims to address the need.
Aerial view of the site on the Eastern Cape coast (photos: Shaun Biggs)
Currently the vast majority of young avocado trees for the industry in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape come down from Tzaneen (Limpopo Province) or Schagen (Mpumalanga). Avocado trees are more prone to transplant shock when transported and the costs can be prohibitive.
“We were approached by our customers and asked to start propagating avocado trees,” says Shaun Biggs, managing director of Sutherland Seedlings in Ixopo, a well-known vegetable and forestry seedling supplier. “It’s quite a difficult tree to propagate clonally, more difficult than other fruit trees, and that acts as a barrier to entry into the avocado nursery sector.”
“Many sugar cane farmers on the southern KZN coast are considering planting avocados or macadamias. They might prefer avocados but when they hear it could be a five year wait for trees, they rather opt for macadamias, and therefore it’s limiting the growth of the avocado industry in South Africa,” Shaun notes.
Westfalia provides technical expertise & genetics
Westfalia Fruit is providing the technical expertise and the plant material. Shaun believes Westfalia has the best avocado breeding programme in the country: “It’s a win-win situation. Westfalia has been fantastic to work with and they will be a great partner for the next 15 or 20 years. There are exciting new rootstock trials underway.”
Sutherland Seedlings will mainly be producing the Hass cultivar, grafted on the popular Westfalia Dusa rootstock, and it is hoped that the avocado harvest in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape will be later than in the traditional avocado growing regions, such as Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
Focus on clonal avo trees
Clonal trees will be their primary focus, but establishing rootstock and budwood orchards for the nursery takes time, and so in the meantime seedling avocado trees will also be propagated. The price difference between clonal and seedling avocado trees is approximately R60 (3.7 euros).
The nursery has invested in a sophisticated water treatment plant because of the area’s high salt levels. “To produce quality trees, it's essential to start with good, pathogen-free water. An added benefit of being located in East London is the fact that there is no commercial avocado production in our region, meaning we’re a bit isolated from other avocado orchards, but logistically we’re well-situated.”