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Flash Gala’s high pack-outs drive producer profitability

The mesmerising full-red colour initially drew Alexander Gibson from Doornkraal Agri in the Witzenberg Valley near Ceres to the South African Bigbucks apple variety.

“The prospects for price, especially in the Eastern markets, and pack-outs were equally attractive, and today I can say the variety met my expectations,” says the acclaimed third-generation farmer, who has been farming with 10 hectares of the sought-after apples, branded as Flash Gala, for the past few years.

Alexander established his first standard Bigbucks orchard in 2018, followed by a high-density orchard in 2020. He chose the MM109 rootstock for the first orchard and planted it at 4 m x 1.5 m. As a proponent of dwarfing rootstocks, he opted for M9 at a plant width of 3.5 m x 1.25 m for the second planting, but says it should’ve been even narrower (3 m x 1 m). Nets cover both orchards to protect them from ice rain and sunburn and to ensure better pack-outs.

He is especially impressed with the high-density orchard’s yield and quality.

“Apple trees on dwarfing rootstocks, such as M9, come into bearing much earlier than trees grown on a standard-size rootstock and will pack more class 1 cartons. Our M9 orchard yielded 29 tonnes per hectare in its second leaf, 45 tonnes per hectare in its third leaf, and 65 tonnes per hectare this year, and we expect it to increase even more as the orchard picks up.”

That being said, Alexander doesn’t believe in chasing tonnes per hectare.

“I’d much rather harvest fewer tonnes per hectare and be able to export 90% of the fruit. The money is not in the tonnes, but in the number of class 1 export cartons,” he explains, adding that trees in high-density orchards are markedly smaller and the apples’ exposure to sunlight is much better, resulting in excellent colour and quality.


It’s good colouring abilities ensure that Flash Gala is one of the most profitable varieties in the local apple industry.

“The fact that you can pack a minimum of 80% into exporting cartons thanks to the attractive full-red colour, which is very attractive in the East, drives profitability back to the farm.”

On Doornkraal, they culled only 6% of apples in the M9 orchard and 9% in the MM109 orchard. These were sent to the local juicing facility.

“We packed 87% export-class apples from both M9 and MM109. In the one orchard, 77% of the fruit adhered to Flash Gala standards, and 10% was marketed as Bigbucks. In the second orchard, we packed 82% as Flash Gala and 5% as Bigbucks.”

Alexander confirms the strength of the Flash Gala brand and its ability to earn a premium in the market.

“The industry will benefit even more if more is done to create awareness of both Flash Gala and Bigbucks.”

Doornkraal Agri exports through their own grower/exporter company called Zonnehaven.

“About 90% of our Flash Gala apples are exported to Vietnam, India, Malaysia, and China, and their feedback is positive,” he says.

Good advice

He attributes his success to Doornkraal’s location in the picturesque Witzenberg Valley, where they produce quality fruit thanks to the cooler climate.

“The Witzenberg Valley is one of the best apple-growing regions in South Africa. We are 850 m above sea level with moderate summers and cold winters.”

Alexander says it is key to pay attention to light penetration in the trees and to consider rootstocks and plant widths carefully before planting.

“The choice of rootstock can make a difference. Very few of our apples on M9 can’t be branded as Flash Gala.”

His best advice is to stick to the optimum picking date.

“We have learned that picking ripeness varies, even if the colour is consistent throughout the orchard. It is best to manage this by harvesting more than once to prevent a mix of ripe and unripe fruit from ending up in the same carton.

“By managing it well with sufficient protocols, good value will be unlocked for producers and the industry. I believe there is a bright future for Bigbucks and Flash Gala and I would like to see South Africa succeeding with it,” he concludes.


For more information, please contact Lucille Botha at or visit Follow Flash Gala on Facebook (@flashgalaapples) or Instagram (flash.gala).