Another milestone has been reached in the development of Bigbucks, the new Gala apple variety identified by Buks Nel of Tru-Cape.  After the first harvest in February and four months in cold storage, the first consignment, destined for the Middle East, Far East and local markets, was packed three weeks ago at Two-a-Day.

The first harvest yielded almost 60 bins and the pack-out delivered excellent results: a 93% pack-out, according to Buks Nel, Tru-Cape varietal expert. “It was really stunning,” he says. “It’s very exciting to go from a single little branch to this.”

The apple’s superlative pack-out percentage is due to its solid red colour which develops very early on, even on fruit growing on the shady side of trees. Buks Nel walks continually searches for mutations like this one, which he found in early 2011. He particularly inspects Gala orchards because the cultivar is known for its instability, especially with the striped clones.

“What thrills me about Bigbucks isn’t so much that it’s completely red, which is a bonus, but that it’s genetically stable. I’ve seen a reversion of between 5% and 49% in Gala orchards and it gets farmers down. We appointed the South African Plant Improvement Organisation (SAPO) Trust to administer Bigbucks. In 2016 we planted 95 000 trees on 50 ha and this winter we’ll plant 171 000 trees on 90ha. By next year we expect to have planted more than half a million trees on 300ha. Everyone is looking for a stable Gala,” Nel continues. “We have not seen a single reversion thus far.”

Origin of the name

The Bigbucks variety, which will be trademarked under a different name, has another distinctive feature, which is the red central vein on its leaf, from which is derived the name of the company – Pink Vein – that owns the variety. Nel is one of the owners, together with Derek Corder since the mutation occurred on a Corder Gala orchard and Anthony Rawbone-Viljoen, on whose farm, Oak Valley Estate, the mutation was found.

“It’s going to change the future of the Gala in South Africa,” says Roelf Pienaar, Managing Director of Tru-Cape. “Some of the first bins were harvested in the Ceres region and were sold on the local market as a trial. We have also sent produce to the Middle and the Far East. Although the fruit is still on the water we are anticipating a great response from our customers in these markets. As volumes increase over the next few years we will introduce Bigbucks to more customers. As South Africa’s biggest fresh pome fruit exporter, we sell in 104 countries, so we are excited about the possibilities that Bigbucks represent.”

It’s a good thing Nel was quick to apply for plant breeder’s rights in South Africa, the EU and the USA (the latter two still pending). He mentions that he saw four or five full red Galas at Interpoma last year. A Bigbucks Growers’ Association has been formed to promote the variety among the broader South African apple industry.

This is the first apple variety he has discovered. Does it count as the highlight of his career? “My whole career is a highlight,” he laughs. “It’s a terrific apple but it still tastes like a Gala, it stores like a Gala and there is a saturation point of perhaps a maximum 20% for Gala varieties in the South African industry at the moment. More than that, and the industry will struggle getting all the Galas off the trees before the Goldens start.” –Fresh Plaza

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