Feijoa Breeding

June 2017

The process of producing unique varieties of feijoa in Golden Bay

In a previous story for Rural Delivery (in 2016) we heard about research being carried out at Victoria University into the anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties of feijoa. The research began after observations by a Takaka-based feijoa breeder, Nigel Ritson. 

Nigel is a passionate feijoa grower and breeder and had been breeding his own unique cultivars. Nigel had noted that when he cut a feijoa on the tree, it did not get infected with fungi and he knew something potent was at work. He was keen to better understand the properties of his different cross-bred cultivars and approached Victoria University scientists in 2013. 

The aim of the science was to see if they have added value ‘clean & green’ bioactives (like an anti-fungal) that could be extracted from either the fruit pulp or waste residue (peel) and secondly to better understand his cultivars to continue his breeding programme. Thirdly identifying unique compounds within some of his cultivars that bear bad tasting fruit would give those a value.

In terms of selective breeding, the Holy Grail for any feijoa grower would be achieving a tasty and long life fruit – presently feijoa have a short shelf life and do not travel. 

Foretaste Feijoa began when Nigel settled in Golden Bay, New Zealand in 1991. Nigel had a passion for horticulture and particularly feijoas. He established the initial feijoa orchard on his land with over a thousand feijoas trees of different existing and new varieties.

Nigel dedicated his time to the orchard and while he was initially involved in fruit sales to New Zealand wholesalers and retailers this soon gave way to his true passion and life work: feijoa breeding and research.

Over the following years Nigel continued to develop his knowledge of feijoa plants and began his breeding programme. After twenty years of hard work, Nigel has developed and owns the plant variety rights for four varieties for a range of commercial and retail purposes: Waitui, Kawateri, Waingaro, and Takaka. In recent years Nigel has established a knowledgeable trustworthy team, which now form Foretaste Feijoa Fruit Limited.

Nigel explains that currently the feijoa industry within New Zealand, and internationally, is fragmented and undeveloped. Growers are planting existing varieties, which perform poorly, and selling fruit to large retail outlets individually. This is resulting in low returns for the orchard owners, poor quality feijoa produce for consumers, degradation of the image of feijoa fruit, and stagnation and saturation of the market.

Nigel believes the future of the feijoa industry is in cooperation, and, “Foretaste Feijoa Fruit Ltd is here to make that happen. Our breeding programme has developed outstanding cultivars of feijoas that are set to increase the size of the feijoa market, and ensure the success of our growers over those of other varieties.” 

Foretaste Feijoas' breeding operations are carried out in Golden Bay, New Zealand. The breeding programme has been running for 20 years and has been successful in creating a range of industry leading varieties. The programme continues to develop further improved varieties based upon the strength of current research. 

On Nigel’s website he has a number of varieties that he’s developed including “Waitui” and “Kawatiri” which he predicts will become very popular with commercial growers.

Nigel’s breeding work is done outside of his day job. 

“Breeding work takes most of the year, and I do this work after getting on top of weed control, which is a year round battle.

“Presently on my days off work I am assessing fruit from chiller trials. Beginning last season I tried storing feijoa fruit for initially 8 weeks and then pushed it out to about 100 days and found that there are quite few fruit that can store that long in a chiller.

“This year I have attempted a more controlled approach and was given advice by Prof. Julian Heyes of the post harvest team at Massey University. I am chiller‑long‑storing fruit to attempt to find varieties producing fruit for export shipped in chilled containers for 6 weeks in the chiller and then about 7 days at room temperature before assessing and tasting. The targets for this work are the Asian and North American Markets. Nigel is also trialing a chiller storage regime of 100 days followed by about 7 days at room temperature before assessing and tasting. The target here is European markets.”

“For example, last Sunday working for 8 hours I assessed about 200 fruit chill stored for 7 weeks, then 7 days at ambient in the house and did find some fruit that wasn't rotting from a few plants that tasted from OK through to delicious.”

“This is going to take huge persistence on my part because 10,000/200 = 50 x 8 hour days. ie. the best part my days off for the next 4 months.”

“Then the data must be entered into a spreadsheet taking more weeks and the numbers crunched using equations. This will produce a ranked list or lists depending on what sort of equations/ranking used and interpretation of what is before you which can be mind bending. Hopefully I can do this before about October so I can get stuck into culling hundreds of trees - this year the ones that produce disgusting tasting fruit. In later years I will hone in on the better plants and do more culling.”

“Then comes flowering in late November through December. I will do controlled pollination of flowers from the plants that bore the best ranked long storing fruit. This is an early morning job before the birds attack the flower petals. Because there are early and late flowering plants. this will go on for more than a month.”

“A related job I'll be starting this week is seed extraction from fruit from long store plants flower cross-pollinated last Nov/Dec. These seeds will be sown in nursery beds next summer.”