Researchers develop "game changer" for avocado production


By Nichola Murphy
Tuesday, 05 September, 2017


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Researchers from the University of Queensland have developed technology that could double avocado production and therefore address the world shortage.

Queensland is responsible for producing 50% of Australia’s avocado crop, worth $460 million a year. However, there is currently a three-year blockage of orders due to the lack of high-quality planting material.

With funding from the avocado industry and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Professor Neena Mitter from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation has led a team of researchers to develop a technique that will speed up this process.

“At present, to supply new trees, the avocado industry follows the same process they have for the last 40 years, which is to take cuttings from high-quality trees and root them,” Mitter said. “However, this is a cumbersome, labour- and resource-intensive process, as it takes about 18 months from the cutting stage to having a plant for sale, which creates a huge bottleneck for nurseries across the globe in the number of trees that they can supply to growers.”

Using a new stem cell multiplication method, Mitter’s team can produce 500 new plants from a single cutting within 12–18 months, compared to just one plant in 8–10 months.

The technology involves a combination of media, light, temperature and other factors to grow and root multiple avocado plants from the shoot tip of an existing plant. It also requires less land, water, fertilisers and pesticides.

“Ten-thousand plants can be generated in a 10-square-metre room on a soil-less media,” explained Mitter.

Under a new injection of funding from the Queensland government, over 600 avocado plants developed using the new method will be tested in regions across Australia. Growers will capture performance data on the growth, flowering and fruiting of the trees.

“From an initial investment of less than $2 million from government, universities and industry, we should see an annual return of $335 million, with benefits flowing across the production and supply chain in Queensland,” Mitter said.

The new method could establish Queensland as a world leader in avocado clonal propagation, and Innovation Minister Leeanne Enoch agreed.

“Conservative estimates predict Queensland avocado farmers will be able to double production to 70,000 tonnes a year,” stated Enoch.

The benefits are wide-reaching: it would increase Australian exports, provide a number of new jobs and address the global demand for avocado. Mitter labelled the new technique as a “potential game changer for the avocado industry”.

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