As of January 2022, the Tissue Culture Facility (TCF) at Bernheim Farm, outside Paarl, has added a certified quarantine facility to its operations. This will enable TCF clients to have certified tissue culture material imported to South Africa.
This novel facility, which is only for imported in-vitro tissue culture material, was made possible by the generous contribution of the Western Cape Department of Agriculture and the sector will enjoy this strategic advantage for many years to come.
TCF nursery manager, Leander Gagiano explained that only a certified laboratory may export tissue culture to South Africa and that before the material is exported it needs to be certified clean. “The material will get tested again in South Africa to make sure the material is 100% clean. The process is laborious with a reason, as we cannot allow contaminated material into the country that could potentially have an adverse effect on our industries,” Gagiano said.
The process starts when one of TCF’s clients, in coordination with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALLRD) connects with a laboratory overseas to import specific genetics into South Africa. This imported tissue culture will then first go through TCF’s quarantine process.
According to Pieter Zietsman, TopFruit berry manager, DALLRD’s facility does not have the necessary infrastructure to accommodate imported tissue culture material, therefore TCF’s quarantine facility is a necessary establishment.
THE QUARANTINE PROCESS
Upon receiving the material, TCF will multiply it in the lab. This material then needs to be hardened off – a process that can take six to eight months. Hereafter, TCF sends roughly six plants of each cultivar (about 30 cm tall and as thick as a pencil) to DALLRD’s plant quarantine station in Stellenbosch to undergo tests for viruses and pests, according to Charmaine Stander, TFC lab manager.
“Due to the sterile environment that tissue culture plants are grown, the plants that are presented to DALLRD for quarantine inspection hardly ever fail to pass the phytosanitary inspection,” explained Zietsman.
Once it is certified as clean it is released to the client. With this process clients receive clean plant material quicker for production, said Stander. The entire process takes approximately a year.
“The treatment of the plants is less intrusive, and inspection is normally done much quicker than when live mature plants are imported,” said Zietsman.
Hardening, or “hardening off,” is the process of transitioning plant material from a protected indoor environment to harsh outdoor conditions.
THE QUARANTINE FACILITY
Since its establishment in 2022, the quarantine facility has expanded.
“All imported material in quarantine needs to be kept separate from other material and there are different regulations for handling imported material,” said Stander.
In the lab, there is a growth room specifically designed for the quarantined material. As soon as the material leaves the lab it needs to have the same regulations, therefore the tunnels need to have a specific space to handle the quarantine material.
“This means that material will go from the quarantine growth room directly to the quarantine tunnel. This is a big improvement and will attract more clients” said Stander.
Once the tunnel is operational, someone will be trained to handle the quarantine material.
For producers to compete in the international market they require the best and latest genetic material, and TCF’s quarantine facility is essential for the industry to have exposure to these cultivars, explained Jacques Jordaan, CEO of the Canning Fruit Producers Association.
Jordaan said that the quarantine facility with the tissue culture services provides IP owners with a safer and quicker option of bringing in plant material that can be multiplied earlier.
“Combine this with a safe route for the propagation of the material it is a win-win combination for industry, producers and IP owners alike.”
- The Tissue Culture Facility would like to thank the Western Cape Department of Agriculture for its support with the establishment of the new quarantine facility and for having the foresight to invest in the sector.