For more than 20 years, Colin Partridge has been helping New Zealand avocado growers become more productive by bridging the gap between science and their orchards.

A Technical Manager for export marketing company Avoco, Colin has made the decision to step back from full-time duties from July. However, his technical expertise will be retained by Avoco part-time in a mentoring role and to help with the handover to his replacement.

Colin’s expertise and advice has been the secret sauce in the recipe for success that Avoco created as the company leading the way in market development outside of Australia. His easy way with people has enabled him to overcome the language barriers that working in a foreign country can present, and his technical knowledge has been valued highly by fruit ripeners and distributors in Asia.

His role, firstly with Team Avocado then later with Avoco, has also taken him to orchards across Bay of Plenty and Northland, and it’s the face-to-face contact with avocado growers that Colin says he’s most enjoyed about his job.

“I really appreciate the hospitality that growers have extended to me and many of them have become personal friends. There has also been a lot of satisfaction gained from advising brand new growers, many of whom had zero prior experience of avocados, watching them getting stuck in and seeing their trees flourish and produce.”

A professional business

With the avocado industry maturing and becoming more commercialised, Colin says more people in New Zealand are taking the business of growing avocados seriously. Attendance at grower field days is on the rise with the most active growers willing participants in industry research trials. An open-minded bunch keen to learn and share their knowledge, growers are always looking for ways to improve.

“Controlling post-harvest rots remains a big issue and, while we are making progress by implementing a raft of horticultural, operational and handling changes, some improvements have been due to more favourable weather this past season,” says Colin. “It would be nice to have some effective post-harvest treatment. If we did, then other shelf-life enhancing treatments could be used without aggravating rots, which they do if we use them now.”

Throughout his career, alternate bearing of avocado trees has remained a constant struggle on orchards in New Zealand and around the world. While strategic pruning can lead to more consistent fruit bearing, Colin says crop manipulation is proving a difficult nut to crack.

“It would be a breakthrough if we could develop additional techniques that would allow very late hanging of fruit without jeopardising the next set.”

Growing in the future

 With global demand for avocados exceeding supply, the industry will be turning to field research and technology to help growers maximise their orchard’s potential. But until the technology was readily available, Colin believes growers are best served by “doing the basics well.”

“If I had a magic wand, I’d wish that every avocado grower had a well-designed and effective irrigation system, and enough water and knowledge to use it properly. This would relieve water stress at critical periods and improve the application and uptake of nutrients at key growth phases, which over time should improve set, fruit size and overall productivity.”

In his new part-time role, Colin will continue to deliver some specific technical and quality-oriented projects that Avoco invests in and will be on hand to mentor Danni van der Heijden, whom Avoco has promoted to the position of Quality & Export Systems Manager. This role has a greater focus on quality outcomes and in-market performance from a fruit quality perspective.

Jerome Hardy will continue providing technical support to the Avoco team. Recruitment for the new Technical Manager is well underway.