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Young blueberry plants cloned at Fruitlab

Agricultural technology is alive and well and happening in Franschhoek. Steven Frankel and Craig Taylor have opened an agritech business called Fruitlab where they are focussing on tissue culture. They believe technology is very much the future of agriculture and can see themselves also being part of research and development in this field.

Tissue culture is a sophisticated way of reproduction, simply explained as cloning of plants. This method as opposed to, for instance planting seeds, provides predictability; part of a selected plant is used to produce a new plant identical to the parent plant and assures superior plants of the next generation. Should genetic variation be required though, Craig says it can be introduced using laboratory techniques.

At Fruitlab, it’s blueberries that are in demand and being cultured for clients. Raspberries are also on the list and waiting in the wings of the lab are strawberries and avocados.

Work at the lab will expand to include controlled-environment growth rooms for their research, growing their capacity and allowing them to employ more people. The team have formed relationships with growers and see themselves as part of a value chain that provides consulting services, advice on plant varietals, problem-solving and so on. They say planning of a successful harvest is preceded by the selection of suitable plants of the required number to be planted at specific times and Fruitlab is geared for such schedules. Because laboratory conditions can be adapted, delivery can be scheduled for any time. Tissue culture being a long process means such a plan may mean a waiting period of up to a year, depending on the requirements.

Steven is an entrepreneur who was fascinated by an article on the sophistication of Dutch agriculture. The work done by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) was of particular interest and eventually brought him into contact with Craig Taylor who did his PhD there and was working locally. They kept it local and established Fruitlab in Franschhoek. Chuffed with the explanting of blueberry plants they have already produced, Steven comments, “Fruitlab is bringing technological innovation to Franschhoek and in so doing, supporting the development of smart agriculture.” Craig loves his lab work and adds, “My passion is to bring Dutch innovation to South Africa and we have found just the place and the way to do it.” Sounds like another feather in Franschhoek’s cap.

Text: Editorial Desk | Image: Supplied