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Cover Story

Seeking the best regional fit

Agri-Innovation project aimed at determining where in the country new apple varieties should be grown.

By Susan McIver T

he Canadian Tree Fruit Products Development project, designed to accelerate the development and commercialization of apple and sweet cherry varieties, is making considerable progress. The project falls within the industry-led Agri- Innovation Program, which in turn is part of Growing Forward 2, a funding mechanism negotiated between the federal, provincial governments and territories, Frank Kappel explained.


Planting trees in the Oliver test orchard are, from left, Liam Trewhitt, Alexandros Tsoycalas and Rajiv Dasanjh. For more about the test orchard itself, see Fred Steele’s column on page 21.

and VK 71.

Kappel is general manager of the Summerland Varieties Corporation (SVC), which is collaborating with apple growers in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec and the Summerland Research and Development Centre on the $4,358,050 project. “Slightly more than half the funding goes to scientists at the research centre and the remainder to SVC, Ontario Apple Growers and RECUPOM, a Quebec apple consortium, for the grower testing of the new apple selection,” SVC research project administrator Erin Wallich said.

The basic goal is to determine the varieties best suited for each geographic region.

Wallich explained that the AIP program officially started in November 2013, more than halfway through the first year of Growing Forward 2, which is a five-year program that will end March 31, 2018.

“The winter freeze of 2010 killed most of the trees in the first cycle of testing (Growing Forward 1) before they could be released to growers for test, so promising ones were added to the second round of planting in 2015,” said SVC operations manager Nick Ibuki.

Only one of the first cycle test varieties, SPA493 (Salish), was named.

Some of varieties less suited for B.C. are continuing to be tested in Eastern Canada, where they have more promise for markets.

“In 2015 we planted test varieties in eight orchards up and down the Valley and this year we grafted five test varieties on 100 trees in an orchard in Vernon,” Wallich said. The nine apple varieties being tested are SPA 628, SPA 766, SPA 875, SPA 1008, SPA 1062, SPA 1079, SPA 1080, SPA 1089


“We do the pruning and blossom thinning and the growers manage the trees from that point forward,” Wallich said. All varieties are grown using the super spindle system, which may not be the optimum system for a particular variety. Evaluations of each selection include ease of picking, yield, size and colour of fruit, and angling of branches. “We make videos of the trees each year so we can track the development of each variety over time and compare the varieties,” Wallich said.

“None of the test varieties in Growing Forward 2 have been named yet, although VK 71 is now available commercially as it has a lot of potential as a ‘better McIntosh’,” Ibuki said. VK 71 is a McIntosh sport found in a South Okanagan orchard.

“All the B.C. test varieties generally rate higher than commercial standards in the areas they are scored for. I wouldn’t go so far as to rate them all as having considerable promise. In reality you only need one winner,” Ibuki said. In the short term, Ibuki considers Ambrosia to be the apple of choice for growers because of its strong returns. He thinks, however, that significant investments need to be made to open new foreign markets for Ambrosia to maintain those returns.

“For the next couple of years the choice of varieties to plant is limited to Ambrosia and red-sports of established varieties, such as Honeycrisp, Gala, McIntosh and Fuji,” he said. Ibuki thinks it will be at least three years before a new variety is available in any quantity to have a decent sized planting. Scientists at the Summerland research centre are conducting studies on the test varieties.

In particular, Peter Toivonen is working on post-harvest physiology and optimum storage regimens and Margaret Cliff

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Summer 2016

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