Avocado tree not bearing fruit

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Avocado tree not bearing fruit, leaves drop in autumn. Photo: Justin Setterfield/WWF/PA

Australia's most important tree is an icon of our country and the source of over 80% of our national income, but the avocado is in danger of being lost forever.

The world's largest flower may also be on the verge of extinction due to invasive plants.

The avocado, one of our most popular fruits, originated in South America and has made a long trek from tropical forests across the Pacific to the eastern coast of Australia.

It is now growing on the country's southern fringe, from where it spreads across a large area of New South Wales to Victoria and Tasmania.

But in a country where we value its unique flavour, the avocado will no longer be a staple of our summer diet if a pest threatens it.

The tree's fruit is the biggest single export earner for the Australian agricultural industry, producing over $750 million each year.

The avocado is now growing in several large plantations in Australia's south, but it is in danger of disappearing.

The avocado has been declared the most important tree in Australia by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Photo: Justin Setterfield/WWF/PA

WWF Australia CEO Dermot O'Gorman said the avocado was the most important tree in Australia, worth around $2 billion in annual exports, but was now under threat from invasive pests and diseases.

"The key thing for the avocado is to maintain diversity in its environment," Mr O'Gorman said.

"And if we're not careful with this species it will disappear.

"A long time ago, before we ever had avocado in our diets, we lost a key source of food for our diets.

"If that species disappears, we will really need to think hard about what we replace it with."

Mr O'Gorman said the avocado was particularly vulnerable to pest infestations and declining climate conditions.

Pests like the spotted wing drosophila pest, which causes damage to avocado and other fruit, threaten large plantations. Photo: Justin Setterfield/WWF/PA

"They grow up to 25 or 30 metres high and we are seeing a few of these trees have been chopped down or burnt," he said.

"The good news is it is relatively easy to control these pests, but it's expensive and it's difficult to control a large area of land.

"Diseases are an issue, climate change - the average temperatures in South Australia where avocado grows has gone up by about 2 degrees centigrade in the last 50 years and that is likely to be continuing."

The avocado is now growing in several large plantations in Australia's south, but it is in danger of disappearing. Photo: Justin Setterfield/WWF/PA

In southern Australia, most fruit production is concentrated in the states of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

"In Western Australia, most of the area of land growing avocados has been bought up by a single company, which is being heavily criticised for its practices," Mr O'Gorman said.

"I think it is important to recognise that avocado is much more than a food. It is really a cultural product, so we will miss that cultural product if we remove it from our diets," he said.

"We are seeing in a few places, we are looking at this and wondering what is going to happen to the avocado trees in those places and also the people who are dependent on them for food."

'A little bit of a pain'

The main concern among people who buy avocado in Melbourne is whether they can get it at all in Australia in the future, Mr O'Gorman said.

"We have got a big problem with being able to supply to Australia.

"Some of it's being traded in to Europe, which can be a little bit of a pain and a little bit of a headache."

The future of avocado production in Western Australia has been called into question, with many growers feeling as though they are now on borrowed time. Photo: Matt Blythe/ABC News

This means that if Australia doesn't increase the number of farms exporting food to the country, the nation will find itself locked out of the global avocado market.

A spokesperson for the US-based trade group called World Food Trade warned Australia that if it didn't increase exports by two to three million tonnes by 2030, this would have major consequences.

"For example, the [US] avocado crop is now very close to being at a record size," the spokesperson said.

"We currently import around 7.5 million tonnes of avocados annually and the market is expecting a 15 per cent increase in demand by 2030.

"If we don't grow those avocados locally or import them, that will essentially put us out of business. We can't afford to buy all our avocados on the global market."

Avocados are currently worth more than any other fruit in Australia.

In Western Australia, a single harvest can net growers more than $30,000.

Avocado-growing business owner Gary Wood, from the town of Pemberton, told The West Australian that the price of avocados in his country was currently more than $20 a kilogram.

"We have to be prepared for not having enough to sell because of global politics," he said.

"The market has been running so hot that it has made it difficult for everybody in the world to grow.

"I don't know how the global market will treat Australia because we are only exporting a fraction of what they are growing in America.

"We don't produce enough avocados to support the industry. We are not competitive with Asia yet and that's where the market is headed.

"We are not growing enough to stop imports coming in."

It's estimated that an avocado tree will eventually need four kilograms of fertilizer to produce a single fruit. ( AAP: Supplied )

Mr Wood said in the next three to four years he wanted to start growing tomatoes.

"It will be too late for avocados, but if we start growing them at the same time as the avocado, it will be like starting a small tomato industry that is only about the size of Western Australia," he said.

"We can't grow anything bigger because we don't have water to transport them.

"We will make up for lost time but even that is going to be tough."

Mr Wood said he planned to import the seeds to start growing his tomatoes.

"There's no way I'm going to start importing seeds — I'm not that stupid," he said.

"We will start growing them ourselves.

"Hopefully one of the people who start growing tomatoes will move on and go and grow a few for us."

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