New technique to grow avocado trees could make shortages of the fruit a thing of the past

RUBY PASCOE

The new stem cell multiplication method could increase avocado production in Queensland by supplying 500-fold more avocado plants to the industry.

Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, Professor Neena Mitter is leading the project and said the new technique of using tissue cultures to produce avocado trees will be quicker and more efficient.

Currently the avocado industry is following the same process of using cuttings from trees that have been using for the last forty years. This combined with not being able to source plants and an increased demand for the fruit has lead to a global shortage of avocado trees.

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Professor Mitter and her team in plant growth room at University of Queensland photo: supplied QAAFI

‘‘At the present when they try to multiply trees it takes them 18 months to get a tree ready for sale. With our new system, from one cutting we can get 500 plants ready to be sold within a time period of 8-12 months,’’ Professor Mitter said.

Professor Mitter said the new method uses a segment of a cutting from a tree which is put into a tissue culture system that speeds up the process of striking, with no genetic modification being used in the process.

‘‘There’s no genetic modification. It’s the same as using a cutting from a tree, our process is just a lot faster and more efficient. What we have done is provide the cutting with really nice and suitable conditions for growing,’ Professor Mitter said.

Queensland produces half of Australia’s high-value avocado crop and with the current shortage, plant orders are backlogged until 2020, which is a problem Professor Mitter believes can be fixed if the new system works.

‘‘The roadblock of the plant supply can be overcome. Growers can order anytime and they will get the plants quicker and they will be able to do high-density plantings as well.’’

Professor Neena Mitter, Dr Alice Hayward and PhD student Jayeni Hiti Bandaralage inspect avocado clippings that could contribute to easing the avocado shortage photo- supplied QAAFI

Professor Mitter and QAAFI researchers inspect avocado clippings photo: supplied QAAFI

The process will be trialled early next year in various locations across Australia.

‘‘The trails are going to start early next year in Bundaberg and Lakeland while also in Western Australia and NSW. There will be five different locations for the trials, the reason being we would really like our system to be very robust and to be tested in diverse conditions,’’ Professor Mitter said.

‘’The trials will go for three years and we will be recording data every three months.’’

If successful, commercial licensing of the system could be seen within three to five years.

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