Researchers smash avocado production bottleneck

If you enjoy avocado on your toast in the morning, you will soon be thanking University of Queensland researchers for keeping up the supply of your favourite breakfast fare.

Researchers smash avocado production bottleneck

UQ scientists are revolutionising the way avocados are grown in Australia by successfully propagating trees using plant stem cell technology.

Growers currently get one avocado tree from a single cutting and it then takes up to five years before a grafted tree begins bearing commercial quantities of fruit.

With this world-first breakthrough, one piece of tissue culture can produce 500 avocado plants in less than 12 months. 

Project leader and director of UQ’s Centre for Horticultural Science Professor Neena Mitter said this process could completely change the industry.

Queensland produces most of Australia’s avocados, accounting for 55 per cent of the national crop.

The $493 million industry is feeding a voracious market, with Australians consuming 3.8 kilograms of avocados per person every year according to Avocados Australia.

The new propagation method is being trialled on five farms across the country, including near Bundaberg in southern Queensland and Tully and Lakeland in the state’s far north.

A survey of avocado growers undertaken by CQUniversity found 72 per cent cannot access enough plants and nearly half indicated they already have the skills and knowledge to work with tissue culture trees.

Childers grower Lachlan Donovan has been growing laboratory-propagated Hass avocado trees for three years and is hungry for more. 

“In the past, the delay between ordering new trees and planting has been two to three years,” Mr Donovan said.

“The biggest advantage of this new technology for us is to be able to get desired rootstocks and varieties into production quickly.”

Economic modelling conducted by the University of Southern Queensland and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries suggests that the new tissue culture technology offers good returns for growers, with the potential for a 21 per cent return on investment.

Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries and Minister for Rural Communities Mark Furner said this was a Queensland-owned and invented technology platform validated from lab to orchard, and was now progressing to commercial roll out.

“Queensland produces the majority of Australia’s avocados and this innovation offers opportunities for growers across the state,” he said.

Five different rootstock varieties have been trialled and one is ready for commercial application.

“We have just commercially licensed one of our earlier rootstocks that we were successful with,” Professor Mitter said.  

“We are now in discussions for the other rootstocks as well, about how to take them forward.”

Tissue culture propagation is not a new concept and has been used for different fruits including bananas for many years.

However, woody species like avocado trees are trickier to work with and commercial tissue culture propagation has not been possible until now.

Professor Mitter said there was also environmental advantages for this growing method.

“This is a sustainable technology that reduces the need for water, fertilisers, pest management processes and farming land used to produce rootstocks,” she said.

“Another advantage with tissue culture propagation, particularly in this day and age, is that the movement of soil and the biosecurity risks this entails can be eliminated.”

Fresh produce industry leaders sampled the first Hass avocados grown from the tissue culture propagation at the annual Hort Connections Conference in Brisbane in early June, the industry’s largest event.