Researchers have been investigating GEM avocados as a possible alternative to the Hass variety, in hopes to enable other areas of California to grow avocados. Most of the state’s avocado production is currently taking place in the coastal region of Southern California.
Mary Lu Arpaia is the Subtropical Horticulturist in charge of the avocado variety breeding program for UC Cooperative Extension. She has been part of the team evaluating the viability of GEM production in the Central San Joaquin Valley. “It has good production, better than the Hass up here, but still a little bit less than what you’d see in Southern California. So, we still have work to do, we need to figure out how to grow them properly up here…but we’re going in the right direction,” Arpaia stated.
The GEM variety was originally patented in 2003 but only recently started receiving sizable interest from growers. According to an article in the recent Summer 2017 issue of From the Grove Magazine, written by the California Avocado Commission’s Research Program Director Tim Spann, “There has been increasing interest from all sectors of the industry in the GEM avocado variety. Brokaw Nursery tells us that by the end of 2017, they will have propagated about 180,000 GEM trees.” Spann also noted that due to GEMS being planted in different spacings it is difficult to accurately identify just how many acres that equates to. The best estimate is around 500 acres.
The GEM variety has speckling on the skin and is a bit more oval in shape compared to the Hass variety. GEM avocados have the same growing season as Hass and have a comparable post-harvest life. As the fruit ripens, it will begin to turn dark and many times the speckled lenticels with become a yellow or gold color. A benefit of the GEM variety is that because the trees are generally smaller compared to Hass, it can reduce the amount of labor needed during harvest.