A number of R&D projects are underway or have recently been completed for the avocado industry to improve yield and quality through disease management; enhance fruit quality through the supply chain; and coordinate data management and extension with industry. The R&D Snapshot below details field and greenhouse project activities to assess rootstock, work across the supply chain – including at retail level – to improve avocado quality at point of purchase, and field trials of the fruitspotting bug in avocado crops.
In the Marketing Snapshot read about avocados’ ‘Mexican Month’ on social media, the winter warmer program and recipes, the television campaign and extension of the Perfect Match creative.

INDUSTRY UPDATE

Hort Innovation completed interviews for the avocado Strategic Investment Advisory Panel (SIAP) over two days in June. Almost 30 applications were received and the short-listed telephone interviews with applicants were very competitive. The recommendations from the panel are progressing through the approval process with an announcement expected in August. As soon as the announcement is confirmed, the inaugural meeting of the SIAP will be held.

To find out more about the Avocado program, take a look at the avocado page on Hort Innovation’s website or send the industry’s Relationship Manager at Hort Innovation, Astrid Hughes, an email. For marketing contact the avocado Marketing Manager Graeme Yardy on email.

R&D SNAPSHOT

NEW, ONGOING AND COMPLETED PROJECTS FOR THE INDUSTRY

Improving yield and quality in avocado through disease management – phase 2 (AV 10001)

This project aimed to enhance avocado fruit standards by optimising fruit yields, fruit quality and tree health, and by improving management of insidious diseases affecting fruit, roots or whole trees.

The project wrapped up in April 2016 and provided new knowledge for the plant pathology community locally and internationally.

Field and greenhouse project activities included assessment of rootstocks under high Phytophthora disease pressure, evaluation of improved applications of phosphorous acid, evaluation of improved integrated approaches for managing postharvest diseases, and investigation of management options for brown root rot.

Key outputs from the project were:

  • Identification of SHSR-04 and Dusa rootstocks as highly tolerant of Phytophthora root rot (with rootstocks most capable of tolerating Phytophthora having the highest yields).
  • Improved concentration of phosphorous acid in roots, achieved by adding a surfactant to low-volume spray applications of phosphonate.
  • That industry-standard fungicides effectively reduce postharvest disease, and strobilurin fungicides alone applied pre-harvest contribute significantly to higher fruit quality.
  • That significant increases in productivity can be achieved by Phytophthora-tolerant rootstocks, and efficiencies in phosphonate application can be achieved by careful use of spreaders (low volume spray application) and monitoring to ensure critical levels of phosphonate are present in roots prior to peak infection periods.

Avocado colonisation of seed and crown (left) and an avocado with a 50 per cent or rating level of 3 – severe (right)

Avocado industry fruit quality benchmarking (AV11015)

The profitability of the avocado industry in Australia is adversely affected by variability in fruit quality, which introduces inefficiencies into the supply chain, increasing costs and dampening demand for the product.

The objectives of this project were to use the ongoing retail quality survey results as one of the tools to monitor the quality improvement program being rolled out through other projects; to monitor fruit quality over time to measure improvements as a result of specific projects aimed at improving quality; to provide time-series data to illustrate fruit quality by growing season, store type and city; and to report back to members of the supply chain on a regular basis as to the level of quality of assessed fruit with an up-to-date analysis of current quality.

The data reported has been used to inform sectors of the supply chain of the main quality defects and the levels that are being observed at retail level as well as the incidence of immature fruit in the market.

All Australian avocado industry supply chain participants were able to access regional dry matter maturity reports a week after sampling occurred to educate them on the need to closely monitor dry matter at the beginning of harvest. Further, findings have been used as the foundation for the quality improvement program Qualicado, run by Avocados Australia Limited.

An analysis of fruitspotting bug activity in avocado crops from fruit-set to harvest (AV11021)

The banana-spotting bug is a major insect pest of avocados. To better understand the relationship between the pest and its avocado host plants, studies investigated the survival, development and performance of bugs on avocado.

Recent advances in the understanding of the chemical ecology of banana-spotting bugs have led to the development of pheromone traps for the pest that are attractive to nymphs and both sexes of adult. These pheromone traps were used to investigate the seasonal abundance and spatial distributions of banana-spotting bug populations in avocado crops.

The efficiency of the traps for catching bugs at different stages of development was also studied in the field and the utility of traps for concentrating bug populations for possible control with targeted applications of insecticide was also investigated.

The different phenological stages (flowers, vegetative flush and different sized fruit) of avocado (Persea americana Mill. cv. Shepard) crops were evaluated for their suitability as hosts for banana-spotting bug.

Field trials examined the relationship between banana-spotting bug feeding damage and the number of bugs captured in pheromone traps on two avocado blocks. Feeding damage on avocado fruit in trees containing pheromone traps was higher than that in trees without pheromone traps. Positive correlations were detected between feeding damage and banana-spotting bug numbers captured in pheromone traps within a given tree. In trees containing pheromone traps, a significantly higher proportion of avocado fruit sustained feeding damage than the proportion of fruit that was damaged in trees 6 and 18m from pheromone traps.

Cage experiment set up with avocado seedlings and pheromone trap

Coordination of data management and avocado quality improvement and extension program (AV12012)

This project looks at the coordination of data management and avocado quality improvement and extension with two key objectives. Firstly, to expand on the results of ongoing project National avocado quality & information management system and, secondly, ongoing data management, specifically related to Infocado and OrchardInfo.

Key components of the project included the ongoing coordination of a suite of supply chain improvement projects that collectively form the support systems for the quality improvement and extension program; the establishment and implementation of a quality improvement and extension subprogram (Qualicado), which aimed to improve fruit quality; and management and improvement of Infocado and OrchardInfo.

The project coordinated and contributed resources to a number of other related supply chain and quality projects to ensure synergies between the various projects are captured and extended through coherent, impactful and continuous learning mechanisms.

In total, 16 Qualicado grower workshops were held across eight major production regions and 10 wholesaler workshops were held in five capital cities over the life of the project. Content for these workshops was tailored to meet the needs of participants. In total 732 people attended the workshops in the first phase of the project and 488 people attended workshops in the second phase of the project.

Evaluations from the workshops showed they were well attended and well received by the attendees, with a strong indication that attendees would likely use knowledge gained at these events to improve their practices.

Forty two facility checks (and related report cards and action plans) covering 29 packhouses and 13 ripener/wholesaler facilities were also completed as part of the project. These facility checks provided these businesses with an independent expert review of their infrastructure and quality management practices, with recommendations where improvements could be made.

A review of crop forecasting techniques and the application of remote sensing technologies to support the industry and business data needs was also completed.

Australian avocado benchmarking program development rounds 1 & 2 (AV13003)

The value of enterprise benchmarking increases exponentially as data from multiple years is collected and analysed. An industry benchmarking database compiled from just one financial or data year/period will capture inherent differences between management practices, regions, seasonal conditions and many more aspects of any broadly distributed business activity.

This project is the continuation of the Australian avocado benchmarking program development project. It is the further development of an industry database and benchmarking process that will enable growers to identify and strive for Australian best practice in production, packing and marketing of avocados. By participating in this project and/or learning of and adopting findings from this process, growers will be able to improve farm productivity, produce quality and sustainability.

Insights arising from this project will assist growers to understand relationships between key farm and business practices and the primary outcomes they are aspiring to achieve, namely improved productivity, cost efficiency, quality and consistency of produce.

The outputs from this project will enable comparisons between growers based on a combination of location, business size (turnover, volume or tree numbers) and principal varietal type over multiple years. Motivated growers will then be in a position to identify those areas that impact greatest on their productive and financial performance.

Supply chain quality improvement – technologies and practices to reduce bruising (AV15009)

Measures to effectively eliminate flesh bruising in avocadoes, mostly caused at the end of the supply chain, is the focus of this project. It draws on past research that identified areas for reviewing, reporting, awareness, and gap analysis towards lessening and ideally eliminating flesh bruising in Australian avocado supply chains.

The research aims to develop a project monitoring and evaluation plan; develop and test alternative technologies that would reduce handling by retailers and consumers, including tools for identifying ripeness; and document best practice to prevent fruit bruising at retail for implementation in retail education.

Further, the project looks to review scientific evidence to clarify the relationship between disease and flesh bruising and identify any gaps in research that would elucidate this, while reviewing and documenting contributing factors to fruit susceptibility to bruising.

Having just commenced, this project will be conducted by nationally and internationally renowned Department of Agriculture & Fisheries Queensland (DAF) avocado supply chain, postharvest, and fruit pathology experts, with operations guided by a stakeholder-based Project Steering Committee comprised of avocado industry, Australian Avocados Limited, Hort Innovation, and DAF representation.

A multi-target approach to fruitspotting bug (MT10049)

Fruitspotting bugs are major native pests in more than 25 subtropical and tropical tree fruit and nut crops in Australia, including avocado, with crop losses of more than 50 per cent attributed to the pest. While overall losses are difficult to quantify, these could amount to tens of millions of dollars annually across all industries. A single targeted approach, namely using broad-spectrum insecticides, has been the only management option for growers. This approach is not sustainable in the long-term and a multi-targeted approach needed to be investigated.

The overarching aim of this project was investigation into monitoring options, biological control and chemical alternatives in order to replace endosulfan. This would allow for a more strategic, long-term and sustainable management of the pest.

The main components investigated in this project were chemical control, monitoring, trap cropping, pheromone traps, biological control, mass-rearing for fruitspotting bug and Anastatus sp. and release strategies, Area Wide Management (AWM) and IPM case studies and industry adoption.

Other R&D of note…

Other R&D projects in progress include Avocado rootstock SHSR-04 commercialisation (AV15005), RNA silencing based Phytophthora root rot resistant avocado rootstocks – Phase 2 (AV13000) and Investigating tree mortality during early field establishment (AV14012), scheduled for completion in 2018.

The projects Continuation of foodservice chef training program (AV15001) and Avocado health professional education and research program (AV15000) both have final reports due in the near future, the findings of which will underpin the next steps within the development of the Strategic Investment Plan. The project Data management and quality innovation extension program (AV15004) also continues.

R&D projects within cool chain management and retailer engagement have also recently been contracted.

MARKETING SNAPSHOT

THE LATEST ACTIVITY THAT’S GROWING THE INDUSTRY

Social media

The past months have been focused on extending the social media presence of avocados beyond the highly successful Perfect Match campaign, which was rolled out earlier this year.

Throughout winter the focus of social media is on changing consumers’ attitudes about using avocados in the colder months – a season where they may struggle to find ideas about how to use the product. This led to the development of key winter favourites recipes with avocado as the hero including Avocado, Potato and Parsnip Mash with Roasted Salmon, a healthy Avocado Eggs Benedict with Leg Ham and Wilted Spinach and Avocado Pasta Spaghetti.

Existing content was also repurposed including Ben’s Menu, Perfect Match, Chefs Love Avocados Café series and Mash Up, to extend the Australian Avocados online presence and keep avocados at the top of people’s minds.

Mexican Month was launched in May, to tap into Australian’s love of Mexican food and the growing popularity of the cuisine. The campaign was developed in line with the overall content strategy of creating more moments and occasions throughout the year to demonstrate the versatility of the product and inspire people to try something new.

The campaign centred on the avocado challenging other key Mexican ingredients in a wrestling-type match to create delicious dishes. Short animations were able to develop characters and reveal recipes in an interesting and entertaining way, with recipes developed including Avocado and Grilled Chicken Tacos, Avocado and Jalapeno Poppers, Avocado and Black Bean Quesadillas and an Avocado Nacho Salad.

The campaign reached over 550,000 people in May with more than 250,000 consumers engaging with the content. Overall, the video content series saw engagement rates hit 27 per cent – well above the benchmark of five per cent and demonstrating the value of creating entertaining social media content for the audience.

Social media content also focused on delivering great recipes, leveraging relevant events including World Health Day and sharing video content such as Ben’s Menu, a mini cooking series hosted by former MasterChef contestant Ben Milbourne. In April alone, the content reached over 300,000 and of those, over 130,000 people liked, commented or shared the content.

Media update

In the last few months media has continued to increase awareness of avocados and ensure it remains a staple of the weekly shop. This has been achieved through delivery of our content on TV with support from other digital channels.

Television campaign

The TV campaign has strengthened the emotional connection with avocados by creating buzz around the ‘avocado feeling’ – that delicious whole-body feeling that can only come from eating a delicious avocado. The advertisement also encourages people to access content via channels including the Australian Avocados website and Facebook page.

Due to industry advice and crop forecasting, media spend was strategically shifted from February 2016 to April 2016 in preparation for more product coming into the market. The campaign ran from April 10, 2016 for three weeks in order to avoid the clutter of advertising around the Easter period and was widely shown across a range of channels, appearing alongside 70 per cent of the top 10 highest-rating programs for our key audience of grocery buying females aged 25 to 49 years. These programs included Seven News, Home and Away, The Project and the My Kitchen Rules finale, which was the highest-rating program during the campaign period. As a direct result, the TV ad reached 40 per cent of our target audience nationally.

Online campaign

Following the success of the Perfect Match campaign on social media, the four-part video series was aired across the most relevant websites for our target audience of female grocery buyers for a total of nine weeks from May 1. This campaign reached 300,000 unique people across desktop, mobile and tablet devices, and current results have shown that the audience is enjoying the content, with people viewing more than 65 per cent of the Perfect Match videos – a strong indication that the content is resonating, particularly in a cluttered online world where concentration levels tend to dwindle.

What’s next for the media spend?

The 15-second television advertisement ran for another three weeks from July 17 across the Seven, Ten and SBS Food networks. To add another layer of exposure to the campaign, the advertisement will also be used as online pre-rolls which play before online videos on YouTube and other website videos. The combination of TV and online advertising will be seen by 45 per cent of our audience at least twice on TV and 900,000 people at least twice through online pre-rolls, widening the reach of our avocados message even further.

Website and e-newsletters update

The website and e-newsletters (EDMs) are another important part of the overall Australian Avocados digital program, with each channel working to deliver a consistent and coherent message to avocado consumers. Throughout the year key learnings have been gathered which will serve to sharpen the focus going forward.

Over the last few months we’ve been able to understand our audience’s online behaviour from ongoing, in-depth analysis of the current website. With 85 per cent of visitors to the website being new users and 53.4 per cent of users finding the website through search engines, our focus will be on driving repeat visits by intercepting people when they are searching for avocados. This will cement Australian Avocados as the number one authority for all their avocado needs.

When it comes to content, the recipe section has proven to be the most popular web page, making up 42.45 per cent of activity, followed by the Daily Spread news articles, How To section and Nutritional Information section. With this in mind, content developed on each website page will be tailored based on search activity and developing the technical side of the site to improve its search ranking on Google and other search engines. Creating relevant content that is easy to find will increase our audience’s time spent on the website and engaging with the Avocados Australia brand.

With a total of five consumer EDMs, two health professional EDMs and two food professional EDMs distributed to date reaching a total database of over 14,000 subscribers, the focus of these EDMs has been on testing the overall effectiveness of different content and distribution patterns and monitoring the performance of the EDMs as a result.

GROWER STORY

TOM SILVER, LAUREL PARK, NSW

Tom Silver spent his school years working on his parents’ Alstonville avocado farm, which he took over in 2000 after completing university.

His family had lived in Sydney until 1987 when they purchased Laurel Park and seized the opportunity for a tree change.

Annually, Tom produces about 100 tonnes of avocados from 10 hectares of crops and also grows macadamias.

“I am a sole trader selling avocados as “Avocado Tom” to independent retailers, cafes, restaurants and food service wholesalers in the northern rivers area of New South Wales.”
Tom said the avocado industry was progressive and dynamic, much like the fruit.

“It combines hard work, science, ecological principles, more hard work and a bit of luck.

The industry has always been strategic in its approach, right back to being one of the first horticulture industries to put an effective levy system in place and always tries to identify potential problems before they become actual problems.

We share the strong common goals of higher farm gate returns and good industry relations.”

Tom’s passion for the industry has extended to him taking a Director’s role on the Avocados Australia Limited board.

“I have found my time on the Avocados Australia board enjoyable and invaluable,” he said. It is a great organisation, representing a great industry and has allowed me to meet many growers and industry stakeholders both nationally and internationally. It brings with it a sense of being part of a community, which I’m passionate about.”

Tom said he also enjoyed trying out new systems to see what worked best for the farm.

“Avocados are a difficult crop to grow, especially in our high rainfall environment,” he said, adding that the farm has benefitted from Australian research since the early days, which focussed on combatting phytophthora and fruit rots.

He also said that Avocados Australia’s Qualicado workshops which emphasised quality, had also been of great benefit to the farm.

“These workshops have been about recognising the importance of the entire supply chain, from the grower to the packer, transporter, handler, ripener, store manager and employee, right to the consumer.

Understanding this supply chain, sound research and development and quality targeted extension are paramount to our industry.”

Tom said avocado marketing had inspired an increase in consumption and farm gate returns.

“The use of traditional media and evolving digital and social media has been excellent.

This investment, as well as strategic investment in consumer research and areas such as food service and medical and scientific research, has brought about exceptional outcomes.”

Tom said increasing domestic consumption and developing export markets to cope with massive projected production increases were the biggest challenges facing the avocado industry.

“Further challenges around fruit quality, productivity and production costs will also need to be addressed.”

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