"CURRENTLY THE BUSINESS IS TRANSITIONING TOWARDS A MAJORITY HASS PRODUCTION"

FreshPlaza

Nichola McGregor
The Halls' commercial team is geographically located across the UK and the European continent, Africa and now China. This team has had many knowledgeable years in the avocado market.

Tracey Davies, CEO at Halls said the effect of continuous communication and a closely collaborative team allows the company to best prepare for what the future seasons, months and weeks hold in store in this dynamic industry.

"The stark contrast in volumes and pricing from 2018 to 2019 highlighted the twenty-four-month cycle of the avocado industry. From a challenging year of excess in 2018, to a year of scarce supply of our green gold in 2019. The imported volumes into Europe during the summer of 2018 (350,000t when we add Peru, South and East Africa together) really stretched the whole European market and prices did come under significant pressure, but it did allow the opportunity for far more consumers to experience avocados and begin their love affair with them," explains Tracey

The volumes in 2019 have been approximately 25%/30% down on 2018 and prices have hit new record highs as the demand continues to grow and with it the challenge of sourcing good quality avocados year-round.

Future demand

When looking at meeting future increased demand for avocados, Tracy said, "Sustainability for the agricultural industry at large should be at the top of our agendas.This goes hand in hand with water sustainability and the global warming of our planet, many small things add up to major changes and if we all play a part in the small changes we can make a positive impact on our planet’s sustainability."

To ensure they will have enough trees in order to meet future demand Halls have partnered with Du Roi in developing the DuRoi Halls clonal tree nursery for premium trees to enable them to supply their grower partners and their own farms with trees and so far have been on track with meeting their business plan for this venture. Avocado trees were produced and sold during the 2019 season with 2020 looking promising to meet growers requirements.

South Africa is coming out of a drought situation and the world climate in general is becoming very unpredictable but Halls' farms are situated in the summer rainfall region of South Africa which puts them at an advantage of using rainfall for irrigation.

"In order to deal with drought situations, we have put several measures in place such as; harvesting rainfall into our dams which are fully lined with an HDPE Geomembrane, we have installed our new plantings with a low float drip irrigation system using about 50 to 60 % less water than traditional irrigation systems. We also ensure that we continuously remove any alien vegetation plants which use about double the amount of water that indigenous plants would."

Greenskin/ Hass/ new varieties

The greenskin cultivars still make up a significant portion of many growers' portfolios and Halls have endeavoured to be a strong greenskin marketer.

"Currently the business is transitioning towards a majority Hass production. We have new projects both at our own Halls farms and our grower partners, which will increase Hass production significantly over the next 5 years.

"We also have several rootstock trials underway at our Avocentral farm where we perform new farming techniques and avocado research and development.

Opening new markets

"The SAAGA industry plays an important role in meeting geographical challenges and opening markets for the South African industry and we work hand in hand with them to overcome these challenges. Halls Fresh Produce Head of Technical, Dr Tracey Cambell, has taken the lead with respect to threats associated to Ambrosia beetle (Polyphagous Shothole Borer) and set up active monitoring and sampling for this pest that could have a devastating impact on the industry and she is the Regional representative on the SAAGA board.

"WAO plays an important role in growing consumer demand in Europe and we are an active member of WAO, we believe that meeting our consumers’ needs is central to the future growth of our industry."

When it comes to partnerships, Tracey says a trusted relationship with people who are ethically aligned with the company's values is critical for Halls. With their focus on avocados 365 days a year, Halls works with a well-established network of grower partners in Africa, America and Europe in order to ensure a seamless supply throughout the year.

“Every drop of water matters"

"With sustainability being so critical for the survival of our planet and longevity of the agricultural industry, our plan is for our brand to be fully aligned with the term “sustainability” through our initiatives. We have launched our “every drop of water matters” campaign through video infographics to talk about feasible and practical water sustainability initiatives. We are implementing the WWF water risk analysis tool in order to assess the short- and long-term water risks.

"We have embarked in biodiversity projects from our insect populations to the foliage that supports them. Our living soils is a part of our farming practices that will gain much more momentum in 2020."

Halls will also be adapting the use of drone flights which allows for assessment and monitoring of tree health status and upgrading their canal systems which will help in eliminating any current and future leaks and seepage on waterway systems.

"The reuse and recycle initiatives that have been taken up with great enthusiasm from our employees across our group will set a new standard within our business. We have launched our 100% biodegradable packaging in France and hope that the consumers will embrace this initiative."