Nov 13, 2018
British Columbia shows research flair

Many of the cherries grown commercially around the world have had their origins in Summerland, British Columbia. Work continues to develop fruit varieties with specific traits and qualities.

The Summerland Research Station, established in 1914, was a featured stop on the recent International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) Summer Study Tour based in Kelowna.

Amritpal Singh, a scientist at the Summerland Research and Development Center, said continual development has resulted in many new varieties of apples and cherries. Summerland Varieties works to test and commercialize new fruit varieties. Fruit research in Summerland has led to many new varieties over the years.

Cherry varieties from Summerland include the Stella, Sweetheart, Staccato, Sentennial and Lapins.

The Stella cherry, developed in 1968, was the first self-fertile cherry variety. Self-fertile varieties do not require pollinators in order to produce fruit. The Sweetheart cherry, another Summerland variety, is self-fertile, has a good taste and ships well.

Other cherry varieties have been developed to mature at various times in the season, to resist splitting and to have other characteristics, such as specific sizes and flavors.

Today, 80 percent of all commercial varieties worldwide have their origins in Summerland, Singh said. New varieties are in development at present and are expected to become commercially available in the next several years.

Michigan State University cherry expert Greg Lang shares his knowledge with Amritpal Singh, a tree fruit breeder at the Summerland Research Station. Photos: Gary Pullano

There are three stages to the breeding program, Singh said. The 30,000 apple and 6,000 cherry cultivars are categorized under stage one, where it’s a single tree of each cross. In stage two, Singh said, there are eight of each cultivar randomly planted. Screening is established for yield, taste, texture and storability for five fruiting years.

Researchers have a strict evaluation process. Advanced selections that move on to stage three are planted in commercial orchards, with 50 copies planted at the research station.

Singh said cultivars that don’t make the cut are housed in a larger germplasm repository, which also hosts varieties that are 100 years old or more. Some cultivars may hold promise for future crosses.

Sweet cherries, which are a staple in British Columbia, also are on the docket at the research station, with at least four varieties approaching possible release, Singh said.

Sweet cherries were showcased in the Skeena NC-140 trials at the Summerland Research Station. Michigan State University’s Greg Lang shared techniques for the various training systems, including strategies to encourage limb renewal in an Upright Fruiting Offshoot (UFO) system.

Peter Toivonen, a postharvest physiology scientist, shared some of the devices that can be used to help more accurately determine cherry firmness and quality.

Apple varieties are also being developed locally. Currently, the station has 30,000 different apple cultivars in its breeding program and about 6,000 in its cherry breeding program. While the Spartan apple, developed in Summerland and made available in 1936, is one of the best-known apples, many more have been developed at the Summerland Research and Development Center, and apple breeding continues today.

Some of these are bred for traits such as color, flavor, non-browning characteristics and long shelf life.

Each apple has different attributes, depending on what you want to do with it, Singh said.

There are at least eight different test sites throughout the Okanagan region, where new varieties are tested before they come onto the market.

Once an apple is available to fruit growers, it will still take six to seven years before new trees are in full production.

Researchers indicated the center is seeking to identify scab resistance in the apple breeding program; but also have concentrated on developing genetic markers for fruit size, powdery mildew and fire blight resistance, and also targeting to determine harvest time.

Singh said the breeding program crosses varieties that are opposites, such as soft flesh and firm flesh or early harvest and late harvest. It’s all in an effort to identify the markers for these traits.

Other stops on the IFTA tour included the following:

Bob Thompson

Bob Thompson Summerland Heritage Cider

Summerland Heritage Cider Company is the brainchild of Bob Thompson, Tom Kinvig and Ron Vollo, all orchardists, who saw a considerable number of apples left on the trees after harvest was finished and wanted to find a use for them. They pressed their salvaged apples to make cider, and realized they were going to need to improve their techniques. This also involved research and growing apple varieties they were not familiar with, but which had been grown in Europe exclusively for cider, including Dabinett, Kingston Black and Michelin.

After several years of grafting dormant scions onto new trees, in 2008 they were able to harvest enough cider apples to begin blending trials and in 2011 began commercial production.

In 2016, Ron’s son, Ted, and his girlfriend, Lauren, took the reins at the company, though the three founders are still heavily involved in the company.

Coral Beach Farms – David and Laura Geen

Coral Beach Farms is a family farm owned by fourth-generation orchardists David and Laura Geen. The operation currently has over 400 acres of cherries and is hoping to double its production within the next five years.

Coral Beach specializes in the production of large, late maturing cherry cultivars bred at the Pacific Agrifood Research Center in Summerland. These varieties, combined with northerly latitude and the cool breezes from Okanagan Lake, allow their customers to have freshly harvested cherries in the latter half of July through the entire month of August.

Gayle Krahn, an orchard manager of Coral Beach Farms, explains cherry production at the British Columbia operation.

As well as producing cherries, Coral Beach Farms also has a packinghouse location where its cherries are packed and shipped locally and worldwide.
Gayle Krahn, horticulture manager of Coral Beach Farms, said Geen favors late-season varieties that bring solid returns.

Currently, the farm has about 700 producing acres. Geen bought 800 acres to add a second cherry packing facility in Coldstream, British Colombia. One hundred acres were planted in 2017 and about 20 planted this spring. The operation hopes to plant 280 the next two years.

Coral Beach’s total acreage may hit 1,000 by 2021.

Craig Dalgliesh, orchard manager for Coral Beach Farms, displayed a planting at the Coldstream location, on a V-trellis system for 15 acres of Regina cherries on Gisela 6 rootstock. The trees are tipped in alternate directions every other tree. Dalgliesh attempts to open the centers of the trees to create more light.
He said the planting density is 700 trees per acre and trees are about three to four feet apart with rows about 15 feet wide.

Craig Dalgliesh

Dalgliesh believes the Regina variety reacts better to V-trellis versus a straight central leader system. It helps provide light, is easier to spray and helps pickers.

In young plantings, the farm prunes the bottoms after the first cropping year, the middle part of the tree after the second cropping year, and the tops after the end of the third cropping year. Tipping takes place in the fourth leaf.

“The ticket for us is before the canopy develops, we’re renewing bottoms,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to lose fruiting surface because it’s hard to get productivity in the bottom.”

“Some of our best fruiting in Regina is coming off of basal buds,” he said. “It doesn’t always look pretty, but we don’t sell trees.”

– FGN Managing Editor Gary Pullano





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