July 11, 2024

Flash Gala Apples Drive Export Profits

Alexander Gibson of Doornkraal Agri, located in the Witzenberg Valley near Ceres, has successfully cultivated the Bigbucks apple variety, known commercially as Flash Gala, over 10 hectares. Drawn to its vibrant red colour and high marketability, particularly in Eastern markets, Gibson has seen the variety meet his expectations in terms of price and high pack-outs.

Optimizing Orchard Design for Peak Performance

Establishing his first Bigbucks orchard in 2018 and then a high-density orchard in 2020, he initially used MM109 rootstock with a spacing of 4 m x 1.5 m. Later, he adopted a denser planting with M9 dwarfing rootstock at 3.5 m x 1.25 m, though he suggests a narrower configuration could be more effective. Both orchards are covered with nets to protect against weather and to enhance fruit quality and yield.

The high-density orchard, in particular, has shown remarkable productivity, with yields increasing from 29 tonnes per hectare in its second year to 65 tonnes in the current year. Gibson emphasizes that profitability doesn’t come from volume alone, but from the ability to export a high percentage of the crop as class 1 fruit. Currently, up to 90% of Flash Gala apples are suitable for export, with the orchards achieving an 87% export-grade output. Of these, the majority meet the Flash Gala standard, with a smaller percentage classified under the Bigbucks brand.

Strategic Export Practices Enhance Market Reach

Flash Gala apples are highly profitable due to their excellent colour and quality, which are crucial for markets in Vietnam, India, Malaysia, and China – where the majority of Doornkraal Agri’s exports are sent. Local climate conditions in the Witzenberg Valley, characterized by moderate summers and cold winters at an altitude of 850 meters, are ideal for apple cultivation, contributing to the fruit’s quality.

Gibson credits the success to meticulous management of the orchards, particularly in optimizing light penetration and selecting appropriate rootstocks and planting densities. He also highlights the importance of adhering to the optimal picking schedule to ensure uniform ripeness and prevent mixing ripe with unripe fruits in the same export carton.

Gibson advocates for greater market awareness of the Flash Gala and Bigbucks brands to enhance their market presence and ensure the future success of these varieties in South Africa and beyond.