Date industry project targets better yields

The Australian Date Growers Association (ADGA) reports exciting times ahead for the Australian date industry, with an increasing interest shown in growing date palms across all mainland states.

ADGA secretary Peter Middleton says the ADGA AGM, held in August 2020 was well attended and involved a growing membership base from across Australia and internationally.

Of particular interest was a presentation by an international expert from Southern Africa on tissue culture techniques with date palms.

On a cautionary note, Mr Middleton said growers were still reporting highly variable yields in Australian grown date varieties, including the highly sought after Barhee variety. This thought to be due to pollination and fruit setting issues that can result in very low yields.

The ADGA is focused on the issue and was successful in obtaining project funding from AgriFutures Australia to investigate the causes of poor fruit setting. The project consists of four activities:

1.     A survey of Australian date growers to provide a snapshot of the industry. This will include farm management practices, yields, source of stock, nutrient testing and pollen source. The aim is to identify practices that successful farmers are using and those practices that may be inappropriate and causing poor fruit setting.

2.     Refinement of existing pollen testing protocols into a farm friendly easy-to-use protocol that will enable date palm growers to have their pollen tested locally. Tests will include viability and strength. This will ensure that growers are using the best pollen and that any fruit setting issues are not the result of pollen deficiencies.

3.     A fact-finding mission to bring the extensive international date growing experience to the Australian industry. Initially this was envisaged to comprise extensive overseas travel but with the COVID-19 pandemic, the ADGA is now scheduling a series of video conferences featuring date plantation managers and renowned date scientists from the Middle East, Southern Africa and the Americas. This change has increased value for money by allowing a greater number of date experts to be engaged.

4.     The initialisation of an Australian date palm identification program by identifying better yielding palms, then feeding this information back to suppliers in a cooperative approach to improve local varieties in the future. This work will use genetic sequencing to identify desirable traits that suppliers can focus on.

Results of the project are coming in and the ADGA has committed to provide members with a full picture of the completed project in future updates.

Mr Middleton said date growers were reporting strong demand for all varieties of locally produced dates within Australia. The demand is particularly strong for fresh khalal (semi-ripe) Barhee and the Medjool varieties. This demand remains unmet and currently exceeds supply of local date varieties.

More information is available on the ADGA website: www.adga.org.au

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