The Hemel-en-Aarde region is already well known for its vineyards from which premium cool-climate wines, most notably Burgundy-style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are produced. Now this fertile valley is again in the spotlight for a very different reason – a new cherry-red mutation of the Gala apple variety, aptly named Bingo Gala, which apparently has striking commercial potential, especially in the Asian market.

Apple grower and farmer, Jannie Wiegman, with the cherry-red mutation of the Gala apple variety, which he has developed in the nursery on Zuiderkruis farm in Hemel-en-Aarde. Aptly named Bingo Gala, this cultivar is touted as a potential top seller in Asia, because of its striking colour.

This new generation of Gala apple was developed from a mutation that was discovered by local farmer, Jannie Wiegman, who came across a few trees with bright red apples as he drove through his Gala orchard on the Sunridge farm in Grabouw on his motorcycle one rainy day shortly before harvest time. Jannie, who is the former owner of the Zuiderkruis apple and pear nursery and farm in Hemel-en-Aarde, told Landbouweekblad that his interest was immediately piqued by these apples, which looked different to the rest in the orchard.

“These red apples were on three trees, then there were two gaps, followed by another tree, a gap and yet another tree. This told me that the trees probably came from the same shoot that mutated,” he told Landbouweekblad. He decided to grow 100 trees to see what would develop, as he did not want to proceed until he was certain of the stability of the colour.

Those trees are now seven years old and the striking, uniform red colour appears to be stable. Not only is around 90% of the harvest guaranteed to conform to the colour specification of 80% to full colour, but another distinct advantage is that an orchard can be picked clean in a single session, meaning a saving in labour costs. In fact, so significant is the saving resulting from a Bingo Gala orchard’s more compact harvesting period that Jannie Wiegman reckons a producer could plant three times more.

“With full-red apples, the challenge lies in the timing of picking,” he told Landbouweekblad. “Initially the fruit on the outside of the tree look good, but when you start to harvest you find that there are still many apples on the inside of the tree that haven’t coloured.” This necessitated a second picking, but Jannie says he soon decided that this was not worth the trouble. Last year he decided to do all the picking in one session and while he admits that not all the apples had reached their full colour, about 90% of them had. To go back for a second picking of the 10% that remained on the trees, he reckons would not be worth the additional labour costs.

While admitting that the timing of the harvest is a rather stressful decision to make, it is a worthwhile one as a single picking session means that you could plant three times more hectares if you have enough water and land.

While the Bingo Gala culitvar’s genetic stability has been confirmed, the apple does not differ much from other Gala varieties in respect of taste, yield and harvest period. The Bingo Gala is however touted as a potential top seller in Asia, because of its colour. “The money is in the colour, it’s the beginning and the end,” says Jannie.

Hein Keulder, CEO of fruit exporter Fruitways, recently told Landbouweekblad that Bingo Gala will show its value particularly in Asia. “It could really open the Asian market to South African Gala apples if it’s planted widely enough. Over the past 40 years our Galas were mostly destined for the UK and Western Europe, where consumers are used to Galas with less colour. In the East, New Zealand and Chile have enjoyed an advantage over us on that score. We’re still exporting the usual Galas to the East, where our fruit sells for less than those from New Zealand and Chile. Bingo Gala therefore opens up opportunities for us to be more competitive.”

TopFruit, the agent for Bingo Gala, confirmed that plant breeder’s rights have been granted and approved for listing in the National Varietal List. Nurseries can order plant material from TopFruit.

There is no marketing levy attached to Bingo Gala, a decision based on Wiegman’s dual perspectives as nurseryman and farmer. It was important for him to stay in control of the plant material, he told Landbouweekblad. “Every shoot is ten potential trees, so if ten shoots are cut, that’s 100 trees that could go wrong. That is why I want to stay in control.”

For more information, Corné Grundlingh can be contacted at TopFruit on 021 874 1033 or 083 652 6337.

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