Woorde: Jacques Dommisse Fotografie: Mia Truter
Before the Covid pandemic began to cripple South Africa last year, Fall Creek began building a blueberry nursery in Paarl. Fall Creek is a world leader in the development of blueberry varieties grown for specific growing conditions in different parts of the world.
Grond tot Mond spoke to Fall Creek’s Wian Mouton, their commercial manager in South Africa, about the group’s progress.
Q: Who and what is Fall Creek Nursery?
A: Fall Creek originated in America, which along with Canada is the heartland of blueberries in the world. We focus specifically on cultivation, plant production and technical support for some of the leading blueberry producers worldwide.
Since its humble beginnings more than 40 years ago, Fall Creek has established nurseries worldwide, such as those in Mexico, Peru, Spain, The Netherlands and now also in Paarl in South Africa – all of which are fully owned and operated by Fall Creek.
Over decades, the group has put together a global team of horticultural and blueberry experts that includes some of the best growers, researchers, distributors, scientists, technical support teams, as well as sales and customer service teams.
Since consumer demand for quality blueberries 365 days a year has increased globally, global cultivation is necessary which Fall Creek serves with its extensive variety portfolio and global nursery network.
The group’s new nursery and R&D center in Paarl now ensures that South Africa, and large parts of sub-Saharan Africa, are better positioned on the supply side.
Q: What are Fall Creek’s mission and existence goals?
A: Our mission is to support the producers of blueberries and provide an excellent service to them.
We help our producers to maximise success by making available the best genetics and plants for their particular environment. Fall Creek also provides ongoing technical support and shares global market and industry intelligence.
To fulfil our mission, we focus on cultivating plants of exceptional quality for region-specific conditions by establishing strong collaborative relationships as well as by delivering a customer service at a fast response time. Together it culminates in our core mission, namely: “To build a world with better quality blueberries.”
Q: What value can you add to the South African blueberry industry?
A: There are five pillars on which Fall Creek bases its addition of value.
Firstly, we can say with confidence that we offer strong, competitive varieties, developed through best practice and the latest results.
Secondly, we ensure that our genetic platform is aligned with and supports our customers’ needs and business models.
An exceptional supply chain of plants that are delivered on time and to specification, is the third pillar of value. Applied technical and sales support is the fourth pillar.
Finally, the group provides added value by being the trusted source of market information and industry knowledge.
Q: Name practical examples of the support that Fall Creek’s technical support team provides to producers?
A: Regardless of whether a farmer has no experience in the cultivation of blueberries, or is someone who wants to expand their existing plantations, they will be provided with complete technical support services. These include pre-planning, variety selection, technical guidance to encourage healthy growth and access to the latest market intelligence.
The support to local producers is complemented by Fall Creek’s global network of research and technical service teams in different regions of the world with similar growth conditions and plant genetics.
Through Fall Creek’s comprehensive reach and collection of information, local producers receive the best variety-specific guidance on an almost real-time basis. Not only can this help to reduce the risk of cultivation, but the learning curve regarding the planting of new varieties is also greatly shortened.
Q: Which varieties are suitable for specific regions in South Africa?
A: The three varieties available in South Africa since 2020 are part of the Fall Creek Collection, namely JupiterBlue® ‘FCM12-131’, AtlasBlue® ‘FCM12-045’, and BiancaBlue® ‘FCM12-087’.
These cultivars are suitable for environments with low to no cold units and can be considered for areas in the northern part of South Africa and parts of the Eastern Cape, as well as in countries such as Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya, where typically Mediterranean and sometimes tropical climates prevail.
These are also areas where winter temperatures do not drop drastically and consequently a slow build-up of cold units is observed.
Another two varieties offered to producers in Southern Africa along with the former three, are Ventura and Victoria, both of which are also available on the group’s Open Catalog portfolio.
Q: Explain the concept of the Fall Creek Collection?
A: The Fall Creek Collection is a new value-added platform for blueberry genetics that transmits technology to professional and commercial blueberry growers around the world.
The goal of the Collection platform is simple: it gives the producer a competitive advantage by providing access to a range of unique genetics for unique conditions.
Furthermore, the program is based on independence, where the producer retains the right and responsibility to market and sell fruit of the plant, either in their own capacity or with the help of third-party marketers and exporters.
Q: What can the producer expect if he is part of the Fall Creek Collection program?
A: The producer gets access to all the varieties in the Fall Creek Collection as well as the future pipeline of genetics being developed for all climatic conditions.
Continuous access is also provided to the available data collected as well as the updated guidelines for better returns introduced by the research team. The support teams’ worldwide knowledge regarding cultivation can also be relied on.
Q: How does a producer become part of the Fall Creek Collection?
A: Prospective producers who want to be part of the Fall Creek Collection’s platform are selected through an audit process. One of the primary considerations is whether a producer’s conditions are suitable for growing blueberries successfully.
Analysis regarding infrastructure, available resources, water supply, soil conditions and location are done. A well-composed development plan is checked to ascertain the potential of the producer and to determine their goals. It is also important to determine if a producer understands and respects the rights and conditions of licensed cultivars.
Q: Does Fall Creek already supply its plants to local producers?
A: Fall Creek South Africa already reached a big and exciting milestone in November last year when the first JupiterBlue® ‘FCM12-131’, AtlasBlue® ‘FCM12-045’, and BiancaBlue® ‘FCM12-087’ plants were shipped to several commercial producers in parts of South Africa.
The plants are intended for producers participating in the Fall Creek preview program, in order to gain first-hand knowledge of the various varieties, their management needs and their suitability for planting in a specific environment.
Interested parties are encouraged to find out more about the “preview plant” concept that Fall Creek offers to producers which allows them the opportunity to evaluate new genetics first, before making major decisions in terms of planting.
Q: What are the predictions regarding the demand for blueberries for the country, the region, or worldwide for that matter?
A: Globally, it has taken the blueberry industry more than a century to place more than a million tons of berries on the market. Predictions in the industry indicate that demand could double over the next decade.
In Europe, where the per capita consumption of blueberries in 2018 was 180 grams, the consumption of strawberries was 1,6 kg and that of bananas 12,6 kg (also per capita), which indicates that the demand for blueberries as a health alternative as well as superfood can increase sharply.
Consumption of around 180,000 tonnes in Europe in 2018 could jump to 650,000 tonnes within ten years according to predictions, with producers in Southern Africa having to help meet the demand.
The quality of blueberries offered to the consumer has come under the magnifying glass since 2019. Consumers, especially in Europe and the UK, are developing preferences and becoming more demanding in terms of acceptable quality. The appearance, firmness, taste of berries and the consistency of the characteristics must be core focal points for producers to be sustainable in the long term.