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Travelling East, Down Under and to hell and gone…

Words by Wiehann Steyn

I recently had the opportunity to spend a week in each of Japan, Australia and Ethiopia.  The XIII International Plant Bioregulator Symposium held in Chiba near Tokyo was very well attended by South Africans.  This should come as no surprise considering the dependency of our industries on plant bioregulators for everything from rooting, fruit set, fruit thinning, branching, flower initiation, ripening, ripening delay, rest breaking, etc.   Symposium highlights included the latest research findings on superficial scald, apple cracking and dormancy breaking – good research contacts were made.

South African attendees of the Plant Bioregulator symposium in Japan on their way to miss the last metro train…

Anton Muller of Kromco did the industry proud when presenting his research on young tree management under South African mild winter conditions – this research is on par with everything the career academics presented.  The “interesting” moments of the trip involved getting lost in Tokyo, missing the last late night metro in Tokyo, and hunting down McDonald’s so that Pierre and the guys could eat “real food” instead of raw meaty unknowns…


From Tokyo, it was over to Australia for a hectic week of visits to the apple research station at Stanthorpe, Queensland, the Australian Centre for Field Robotics ( at Sydney University, Tatura research station and deciduous fruit production regions in Victoria, and lastly, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Manjimup, Western Australia.


One of the extremely efficient (and highly profitable!) orchards of “Colonel” Kevin Sanders in the Yarra Valley. The Colonel was one of the, if not the major, driving forces behind the Future Orchard programme.

The aims of the visit to Australia was to strengthen our ties with researchers (especially those working on dormancy and water research in a very comparable climate to ours), to see what Prof Salah Sukkarieh (who spoke at our 2015 symposium) and his team are up to – turns out their newly appointed Business Development Manager is a South African, visit orchards that are part of the Future OrchardTM programme, see the latest and most efficient training systems employed by “Colonel” Sanders in the Yarra Valley, and to visit the breeding programme that gave us Pink Lady and Joya (Sundowner).

We got to see the new “black apple” or Bravo, which is the latest release of the breeding programme.  An interesting remark made during one of the visits was that local evaluation of new selections and cultivars are key – a pear that might be a nice purple-pink in a cooler climate might turn out an unremarkable brown when grown in Oz.   I’m glad that our industry has finally got centralised local evaluation in place – in time, it should save growers plenty of heartbreak and Rands.


I accompanied Dr Esmé Louw and Prof Karen Theron to Ethiopia two weeks ago on the invite of Prof Wannes Keulemans from Leuven University in Belgium.  The event was an apple dormancy workshop partially funded by Leuven University and hosted by the Bahir Dar University.   We got to see some of the very rudimentary local apple production.  Apples are grown at altitudes ranging from 1500-3000 m and are cropped in a bi-annual cycle.  The two dormancy periods per annum are driven by cold in winter and seasonal drought.  The visit brings us closer to forging a network of dormancy researchers – many traditional apple producing countries will in future face cultivation issues due to warming winters and South Africa should be ready to benefit from resurgent research in this field where we’ve for many years in the past been one of the leaders.

A from down under view of bearing units in one of the Colonel’s orchards.
Esmé Louw and Wiehann Steyn in front of the original Pink Lady seedling tree in Manjimup, Australia.
Prunings on the ground in the Colonel’s orchard. Before pickup. Yes, that’s all there is…. Makes one thing whether we have inefficient labour or mightily inefficient trees…


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