Testing new apple and pear varieties
Colin Bird – Fruit Technical Advisor
New varieties in the UK fruit industry are slow to come through. Of the approximately 2000 grown varieties, perhaps only 10 are of commercial significance to the main commercial growers, with Gala, Cox and Bramley holding up the majority share of the apple varieties with Conference dominating the pear market. Apart from Gala, all these varieties are over 100 years old – Gala is a mere youngster at nearly 80 years old.
Newer varieties are adopted if they meet consumer acceptance. They have to be able to store and progress through the modern marketing regimes. Anything with a short shelf life or limited availability is unlikely to meet with the multiple retailer’s requirements.
Recently ‘heritage’ or local varieties were resurrected to supplement the staple varieties. Most have, again, fallen by the wayside and are used by retailers as a stop gap measure if there is a short fall in the mainstream variety availability. A successful new variety, will almost certainly need to have global supply, aesthetic attractiveness, cross consumer flavour appeal and regular cropping potential. New club varieties offer a point of difference between retailers and marketing organisations and can provide growers with a commercial advantage over a standard offer.
At the Agrii IFarm plot at East Malling we have begun to plant up an orchard with new varieties on offer from European nurserymen alongside standard varieties. This will allow us to compare the cropping ability, flavour and other traits of some new varieties to help identify the commercial potential of the new offerings. It is unlikely that previously tried varieties are going to be successful in the future.
Currently we have five varieties of pear planted and 37 apple varieties or clones of varieties ( 5 of Gala, 2 of Braeburn and 2 of Cox ). We aim to plant more as they become available.
Also we have planted 7 modern cider varieties as cider production is expanding quicker than any other tree fruit area in the UK.
Having a multitude of varieties on one site will allow us to see the variance in maturity, distinctions between clones and also flavour testing fresh from the tree. Cropping potential will be evaluated on modern planting systems which growers will recognise and relate to, for their own farm inclusion. A lot is made of advice from the continent on tree management and with our own in-house expertise we hope to tease out the quirks and requirements of the varieties planted, not least the impact a martitime climate may impose as only the British can fully understand our weather! as well as moisture, light is such an important factor in tree management and we can now evaluate the new varieties from around the world, grown in our climate, on modern systems before our growers have to commit serious finance to new orchards and find out in year 5 that full crop cannot be achieved due to biennialism or find that light levels require a higher leaf to fruit ratio etc. The more diverse we are, the more knowledge can be accumulated for the benefit of the industry.
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